Giganotosaurus, which lived nearly 100 million years ago in what today is Argentina, occupies sizable real estate at the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibit. Similar in size to the better-known Tyrannosaurus rex, experts say it may be the largest land predator that ever walked the earth. Courtesy photo
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Hit the Road: ‘Ultimate Dinosaurs’ comes to life at San Diego Natural History Museum

They are big — really big — these creatures that inhabited our planet many millions of years before humans walked the earth. They are, of course, dinosaurs, but you most likely are not familiar with these specimens because they walked Earth in what is now South America, Africa and Madagascar.

In fact, many of these species were unknown to science until about 1980.

You can meet these giant carnivorous and herbivorous reptiles at the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Dinosaur drama plays out on this screen at the beginning of the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibit. The captivating, computer-generated images are part of the story of how dinosaurs developed in isolation in what is now South America, Africa and Madagascar. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Set to run through Sept. 4, the exhibit features creatures mostly unknown to those of us in North America. That’s because they evolved in isolation south of the equator between 65 million and 250 million years ago. This occurred after the breakup of the giant land mass known as Pangaea, made up of all of today’s continents. 

The 16 life-size dinos are constructed from casts of the bones discovered in the three areas. They and numerous other prehistoric specimens reside in the museum’s basement level. Included are several interactive features that provide kids of all ages a better understanding of what life was like on the planet when much of it was a rain forest (including Southern California).

One of the most popular elements is the simplest: little dioramas the come with several miniature plastic dinosaurs, probably just like the ones that many kids have at home. The difference is that this museum playroom also features a 33-foot-long Suchomimus, a spinosaur from the Sahara Desert that weighed more than 6,600 pounds; a Giganotosaurus, said to perhaps be the largest land predator ever, similar in size to the better-known Tyrannosaurus rex; and a Rapetosaurus, a 45-foot-long plant eater that walked the land in Madagascar during the Cretaceous Period (70 to 66 million years ago).

The price of admission to the museum includes any or all of the three movies that show seven times between 11 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. in the Level 1 theater. The schedule is available on a flier with a map of the museum’s exhibit halls and galleries.

We saw two of the films: “Galapagos 3D,” which takes viewers to the islands off the coast of South America to learn why and how so many varied forms of life arrived, evolved and survive; and “Sea Monsters 3D,” a National Geographic film that makes an excellent complement to the dinosaur exhibit.

This film follows the life cycle of “Dolly,” a female Dolichorhynchops that inhabits what was the huge inland sea that divided the continent of North America in the Late Cretaceous period (about 65 million years ago). Dolly resembles a sea lion with extra-long, pointed flippers and measured about 15 feet in length.

Though there were children about 2 years old in the audience who actually were wearing the 3D glasses, I think that this movie, with its numerous eat-and-be-eaten scenes, is too intense for kids under 5 — especially since the creatures are coming right at you. It’s difficult to believe that these life-like images of Dolly and all the other scary sea “monsters” in this film are a product of computers; they are just too real.

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E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at

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