Ancient Animals of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City lies adjacent to the famous Central Park. Although the cornerstone for the current building wasn’t laid until 1877, the museum was signed into existence in 1869 by then-governor, John Thompson Hoffman.

Front entrance to the AMNH on Central Park West. Right, a statue of Teddy Roosevelt.

Below is a photographic walk-through of many of the specimens contained in the 4th floor halls, including dinosaurs, protomammals, and extinct mammals. There’s much more to the museum– too much to cover in a single blog– so if you have a chance to visit, be sure to set aside at least several hours. The AMNH is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. (Disclaimer: Most of the photographic descriptions below are derived or directly quoted from AMNH material associated with each specimen.)

Upper left is the first skull ever discovered of velociraptor (Velociraptor mongoliensis). Unlike the raptors portrayed in the Jurassic Park movies, the real velociraptors were only about the size of a dog. Instead, Deinonychus antirrhopus, pictured in the lower left, is more similar to the raptors in the movies and was mislabeled in a book that Michael Crichton referenced. In the middle image is the famous T. rex and to the far right, the smaller Allosaurus fragilis gypsicranium.

Although a number of years ago the name, Brontosaurus, was officially demoted and replaced by the earlier taxonomic name, Apatosaurus, in 2015 Brontos were officially resurrected in the form of a few species. The upper left image portrays one of those species: Brontosaurus excelsus. The right image shows fossil tracks of both the sauropod, Brontopodus birdi, and the theropod, Irenesauripus glenrosensis. With these trace fossils, although it’s tempting to assume the theropod was hunting the sauropod, it’s uncertain whether the tracks were made in quick succession of one another.

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This titanosaur, Patagotitan mayorum, isn’t housed with the other saurischians because it’s so huge it requires its own hall. In fact, as you can see, its head even peaks out through the door. From head to tail it measures 122 ft. in length (37 meters).

Left and upper right are views of Triceratops horridus. Below right is the smaller, more primitive Protoceratops andrewsi.

Above is Psittacosaurus mongoliensis, the most primitive horned dinosaur found to date and predates both the protoceratops and triceratops species. As with many other dinosaurs, this branch of ornithischia (“bird-hipped”) dinosaurs developed from bipedal animals, as illustrated by psittacosaurus.

The hadrosaur, Anatotitan copei. According to the accompanying plaque, this “… skeleton mounted in a feeding pose [(hadrosaur in foreground)] was collected in 1882 by a field party working for the paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, and was later purchased by the American Museum. The upright skeleton was discovered by cowboys in 1904. Its location was eventually disclosed to Barnum Brown after a series of negotiations involving a ‘six-shooter’ and $250. The excavation, in 1906, took three weeks and necessitated blowing up a hill.”

Left: One of the early reptile protomammals, Dimetrodon limbatus. Center: Moschops capensis, whose rear limbs are positioned directly under its body like later mammals; however, its front limbs extend to the sides like more primitive reptiles. Right: Lycaenops ornatus, another protomammal who is one of the earliest reptiles to have a mammal-like stance, with all four limbs positioned directly under its body.

Extinct mammals. Center: Diprotodon australis, the largest known marsupial to have lived and died out only roughly 20,000 years ago. Right: Glyptotherium texanum, otherwise known as the “giant armadillo.” Although you likely can’t see it in the picture, this armadillo fossil has two puncture marks in its skull, likely the result of an attack from a jaguar-sized creature, which may have been the cause of its death.

Extinct sloths, ranging from the more ancient, Hapalops ruetimeyeri (left), to the giant ground sloth, Lestodon armatus. The giant ground sloth, Glossotherium robustus, lived in Argentina as late as 30,000 years ago.

Left: Gomphoterium, an early relative of elephants that lived about 10 million years ago. Center: One of the most complete skeletons of a mastodon found to date. This particular skeleton “was discovered in 1845 by workers digging for peat fuel near Newburgh, New York. After uncovering the skull, they dug further and found the rest of the skeleton standing upright, just as it must have sunk into the bog centuries ago. It was so well preserved that inside the rib cage were the remains of the animal’s last meal…” Right: A mammoth of the “non-woolly” variety that lived in southern portions of the United States that were not covered in glaciers.

Left: Mastodonsaurus giganteus, an early relative of amphibians, whose habits probably resembled those of crocodiles based on its obvious predatory physique. Upper right: Eryops megacephalus, one of the earliest land-dwellers living in the Permian. Lower right: One of the first amniotes, the anthracosaur, Diadectes phaseolinus.

Left: A plesiosaur. Right: Prestosuchus chiniquensis. Although the skull of this animal looks extremely similar to theropods like T. rex, it’s actually more closely related to the more basal crocodylomorphs (i.e., the crocodile family) from which dinosaurs eventually evolved.

Well, that’s the end of the tour. If you’re a paleontology (or anthropology) nerd like me, don’t pass up the AMNH if you’re anywhere near New York. It’s well worth an afternoon’s visit! And while you’re at it, take in a Broadway show or two. I highly recommend The Lion King. 😉

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