TAMPA — Jaiden Hudson’s jaw dropped when he turned a corner and got his first look at Big John, a skeleton of the largest triceratops ever uncovered. It’s the star of a new exhibit opening at the Glazer Children’s Museum on Memorial Day weekend.
The 6-year-old kindergartener from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Tampa has a bedroom stocked with dinosaur books and pictures and isn’t as tall as Big John’s left thigh bone. He was among a group of 45 kids from his school who recently got a preview of what will likely be a blockbuster exhibit at the museum.
“I like all the dinosaurs but the triceratops is my favorite,” he said, running his hands along replicas of dinosaur bones mounted on the stage that holds the 1,500-pound skeleton. The head alone weighs 771 pounds.
The 26-foot-long dinosaur made history when it was first discovered in South Dakota in 2014. And it made history again in 2021 when it fetched a record $7.7 million at an auction in Paris, the most ever paid for ancient bones that weren’t from a T. rex. The winning bid came from Tampa entrepreneur Sidd Pagidipati, chairperson of Ayon Capital and Better Health Group. He is lending Big John to the museum for the next three years.
The 10-foot-tall dino is the size of a moving van. It is astonishing among paleontologists because it is one of the most complete sets of fossil remains ever unearthed. Roughly 60% of its bones were excavated, about twice what is found in typical fossil sets.
“This dinosaur eats leaves,” said Yanessa Garcia, 6, “so he is one of the nice ones.”
A year from now a large swath of the Tampa Bay area will likely be dinosaur experts, said museum CEO Sarah Cole, who said she has been surprised by how much she has learned as they built the exhibit. It is the first time in its 13-year history that the museum has created its own interactive exhibit from scratch.
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Cole was surprised to learn that the lines you can see that snake along the edge of Big John’s frill were actually blood capillaries. Some scientists theorize that the frill was similar to a fingernail in composition with many veins running through it — so it may have been quite colorful, Cole said she learned, “and I thought I knew a lot about dinosaurs.”
“I could see adults coming in here to kind of sit and contemplate like at an art museum. It is just unbelievably large,” she said.
The Glazer is waiving its rule that currently prevents adults without kids from entering the children’s museum. The dinosaur exhibit will be included with admission, but registration will be required because they will be doing timed entries. Tickets and reservations are available at bigjohndino.com.
Visitors will find a 2,000-square-foot exhibit with seven interactive stations, such as a magnetic wall puzzle of Big John’s bones, a replica of his horned head that kids can touch, and tunnels with clear domes, where a visitor can pop up and get a closer look at the skeleton from underneath.
There is also a scanning station where kids can color a picture of a dinosaur that gets scanned into a wall projector. A moment later, an egg appears on the screen and the kid’s dino “hatches” and their drawing comes to life. The name written on the paper hangs over the dinosaur as it roams across a jungle scene.
There were more than a dozen dinosaur creations roaming across the scene after the Booker T. Washington Elementary kids discovered the scanning station.
“Look! Mine is the biggest one,” shouted Tre’on Bowens, 5, as his white brachiosaurus that he colored with a lavender stripe running down its back towered over a field of velociraptors and stegosauruses. “He’s the one with the long neck.”
If you go
Glazer Children’s Museum: The interactive museum’s new dinosaur exhibit is centered around the record-breaking triceratops known as Big John. It opens May 26. It is included with admission but timed tickets are required and can be found at bigjohndino.com.
Admission: $18, age 1 and younger free; $2 off for military, first responders, educators and seniors. 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. 813-443-3861. glazermuseum.org.