SuperCroc, the crocodile so large that it could literally eat a dinosaur, will make its debut at Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History on Saturday, March 13. The exhibit, created by Project Exploration of Chicago, will continue at the Sternberg Museum through Aug. 5.
Called "The Science of SuperCroc," the exhibit features the actual 6-foot-long fossil skull of the SuperCroc; a cast of the full skeleton; a fleshed out reconstruction of the full 40-foot-long, 10-ton crocodile; a copy of the skull for photo opportunities; an interactive skeleton of the crocodile-mimic dinosaur, Suchomimus (pronounced SUE-koh-MY-mus); and an expedition tent and supplies to give a taste of what it was like to dig SuperCroc out of the Sahara. Another half-dozen or so exhibits give the context of SuperCroc's evolutionary family tree.
Ironically, the opening of the SuperCroc exhibit, which has previously been seen in its entirety only in Chicago, Cincinnati and the Netherlands, occurs exactly 11 years to the day after the grand opening of the Sternberg Museum at its present location. The museum had been located for decades in the cramped first floor of McCartney Hall on the FHSU campus, but it opened in the spacious and wonderfully renovated Beach Hall adjacent to Interstate 70 on March 13, 1999.
The full SuperCroc requires a minimum of 5,000 square feet, and the Sternberg Museum has set aside 6,500 square feet for this traveling exhibit.
The public is welcome to attend the Grand Opening ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the museum lobby. Following remarks by Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, and Dr. Reese Barrick, director of the Sternberg Museum, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, state Sen. Janis Lee, state Rep. Dan Johnson and state Rep. Eber Phelps.
SuperCroc's scientific name is Sarcosuchus imperator (SAR-koh-SUE-kus IM-peer-AH-tor), which means "flesh crocodile emperor." The first fossil was discovered by a French
paleontologist during the 1940s and '50s. Dr. Paul Sereno, founder of Project Exploration, discovered SuperCroc on an expedition to the Sahara Desert in 2000. It took more than a year for technicians and students to clean up the bones. SuperCroc would have weighed more than the largest African elephant, and with only its eyes exposed above the water, would have stealthily ambushed any but the largest of dinosaurs. Sereno will visit Hays and give a presentation, "When Crocs Ate Dinosaurs," at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 17.
Gary Staab, a Hays native and award-winning paleoartist and research associate at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, will be in Hays for Saturday's Grand Opening. Staab meticulously fashioned the "skin" version of the 40-foot croc. He will conduct a hands-on activity, "Building Dinosaurs," at 1 p.m. this Saturday at the museum. Staab will show the participants the process he uses for sculpting dinosaurs for museums. Each child will get the chance to sculpt his or her own dinosaur to take home. The children will work from a skeletal diagram to build the sculpture. All materials are supplied.
Besides Fort Hays State University, the Sternberg Museum and Project Exploration, the SuperCroc visit to Hays was possible thanks to several sponsors: McDonald's Restaurants of Hays, Russell, WaKeeney and Colby; the Hays Convention and Visitors Center; Eagle Communications; and Monster Energy drink. In addition, Tallgrass Beer, a product of Tallgrass Brewing Co., a microbrewery located in Manhattan, has been named the official beer of SuperCroc in Hays.
A Facebook page has been created to keep up with all things SuperCroc. For updates about The Science of SuperCroc exhibit at the Sternberg, go to the Facebook fan page and become a fan. Just log in to your Facebook account and search for "SuperCroc at Sternberg Museum."
Tickets to the Sternberg Museum, including SuperCroc and all other exhibits, are $8 for adults (ages 13-59), $5 for youths (ages 4-12), $6 for seniors (ages 60 and up) and $4 for FHSU students with an ID. Hours are currently 9 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 6 on Sunday. Summer hours begin on Memorial Day. They are 9 to 6 Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 on Sunday.