Sue (dinosaur) (Redirected from Sue the T. rex)

Sue on display in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
Catalog no.FMNH PR 2081
Common nameSue
SpeciesTyrannosaurus rex
Ageabout 67 million years
Place discoveredCheyenne River Indian Reservation, South Dakota, U.S.
Date discoveredAugust 12, 1990
Discovered bySusan Hendrickson

Sue is the nickname given to FMNH PR 2081, which is one of the largest, most extensive, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found, at over 90 percent recovered by bulk. FMNH PR 2081 was discovered on August 12, 1990, by American explorer and fossil collector Sue Hendrickson, and was named after her.

After ownership disputes were settled, the fossil was auctioned in October 1997 for US $8.3million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil until October 7, 2020 when T. rex Stan was auctioned for US $31.8 million.Sue is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.


During the summer of 1990, a group of workers from the Black Hills Institute, located in Hill City, searched for fossils at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in western South Dakota near the city of Faith. By the end of the summer, the group had discovered Edmontosaurus bones and was ready to leave.

However, a flat tire was discovered on their truck before the group could depart on August 12. While the rest of the group went into town to repair the truck, Sue Hendrickson decided to explore the nearby cliffs that the group had not checked. As she was walking along the base of a cliff, she discovered some small pieces of bone.

She looked above her to see where the bones had originated, and observed larger bones protruding from the wall of the cliff. She returned to camp with two small pieces of the bones and reported the discovery to the president of the Black Hills Institute, Peter Larson. He determined that the bones were from a T. rex by their distinctive contour and texture. Later, closer examination of the site showed many visible bones above the ground and some articulated vertebrae.[page needed]

Highlighted green are the real fossilized bones. The real skull is displayed separately.

The crew ordered extra plaster and, although some of the crew had to depart, Hendrickson and a few other workers began to uncover the bones. The group was excited, as it was evident that much of the dinosaur had been preserved. Previously discovered T. rex skeletons were usually missing over half of their bones.

It was later determined that Sue was a record 90 percent complete by bulk, and 73 percent complete counting the elements. Of the 360 known T. rex bones, around 250 have been recovered. Scientists believe that this specimen was covered by water and mud soon after its death, which prevented other animals from carrying away the bones.[page needed] Additionally, the rushing water mixed the skeleton together.

When the fossil was found, the hip bones were above the skull and the leg bones were intertwined with the ribs. The large size and the excellent condition of the bones were also surprising. The skull was 1,394 mm (54.9 in) long, and most of the teeth were still intact. After the group completed excavating the bones, each block was covered in burlap and coated in plaster, followed by a transfer to the offices of the Black Hills Institute, where they began to clean the bones.

Dispute and auction

Sue's skull

Soon after the fossils were found, a dispute arose over their legal ownership. The Black Hills Institute had obtained permission from the owner of the land, Maurice Williams, to excavate and remove the skeleton, and had paid Williams US$5,000 for the remains.

Williams later claimed that the money had not been for the sale of the fossil and that he had only allowed Larson to remove and clean the fossil for a later sale.[page needed] Williams was a member of the Sioux tribe, and the tribe claimed the bones belonged to them. However, the property where the fossil had been found was held in trust by the United States Department of the Interior.

In 1992, the FBI and the South Dakota National Guard raided the site where the Black Hills Institute had been cleaning the bones and seized the fossil, charging Larson on 158 points. The government transferred the remains to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where the skeleton was stored until the penal and civil legal disputes were settled. The United States Senate voted to not confirm the appointment of Kevin Schieffer as United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota after his controversial handling of the penal case.

In 1996, Larson was sentenced to a two-year prison sentence involving customs violations unrelated to Sue. After a lengthy civil case, the court decreed that Maurice Williams retained ownership.

Williams then decided to sell the remains and contracted with Sotheby's to auction the property. Many were then worried that the fossil would end up in a private collection where people would not be able to observe it. The Field Museum in Chicago was also concerned about this possibility, and decided to attempt to purchase Sue. However, the organization realized that they might have had difficulty securing funding and requested that companies and private citizens provide financial support.

The California State University system, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, McDonald's, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and individual donors agreed to assist in purchasing Sue for the Field Museum. On October 4, 1997, the auction began at US$500,000; less than ten minutes later, the Field Museum had purchased the remains with the highest bid of US$7.6 million. The final cost was US$8,362,500.


Field Museum Fossil Preparation Lab

The Field Museum hired a specialized moving company with experience in transporting delicate items to move the bones to Chicago. The truck arrived at the museum in October 1997. Two new research laboratories funded by McDonald's were created and staffed by Field Museum preparators whose job was to slowly and carefully remove all the rock, or "matrix", from the bones. One preparation lab was at the Field Museum itself, the other was at the newly opened Animal Kingdom in Disney World in Orlando. Millions of visitors observed the preparation of Sue's bones through glass windows in both labs. Footage of the work was also put on the museum's website. Several of the fossil's bones had never been discovered, so preparators produced models of the missing bones from plastic to complete the exhibit. The modeled bones were colored in a purplish hue so that visitors could observe which bones were real and which bones were plastic. The preparators also poured molds of each bone. All the molds were sent to a company outside Toronto to be cast in hollow plastic. The Field Museum kept one set of disarticulated casts in its research collection. The other sets were incorporated into mounted cast skeletons. One set of the casts was sent to Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida to be presented for public display. Two other mounted casts were placed into a traveling tour that was sponsored by the McDonald's Corporation.[page needed]

Once the preparators finished removing the matrix from each bone, it was sent to the museum's photographer who made high-quality photographs. From there, the museum's paleontologists began the study of the skeleton. In addition to photographing and studying each bone, the research staff also arranged for CT scanning of select bones. The skull was too large to fit into a medical CT scanner, so Boeing's Rocketdyne laboratory in California agreed to let the museum use their CT scanner that was normally used to inspect space shuttle parts.

Life and death

Bone damage

Skeletal reconstruction of Sue

Close examination of the bones revealed that Sue was 28 years old at the time of death—the oldest T. rex known until Trix was found in 2013. A Nova episode said that the death occurred in a seasonal stream bed, which washed away some small bones. During life, this carnivore received several injuries and suffered from numerous pathologies. An injury to the right shoulder region of Sue resulted in a damaged shoulder blade, a torn tendon in the right arm most likely due to a struggle with prey, and three broken ribs. This damage subsequently healed (though one rib healed into two separate pieces), indicating Sue survived the incident. The left fibula is twice the diameter of the right one, likely the result of infection. Original reports of this broken bone were contradicted by the CT scans which showed no fracture.[citation needed] The injuries to both the left fibula and the fused c26 and c27 caudal vertebrae show signs consistent with the bone infection osteomyelitis.

Multiple holes in the front of the skull were originally thought to be either from a bacterial infection or bite marks by some other tyrannosaur. A subsequent study found these to be areas of parasitic infection instead, possibly from an infestation of an ancestral form of Trichomonas gallinae, a protozoan parasite that infests birds and ultimately leads to death by starvation due to internal swelling of the neck. Damage to the back end of the skull was interpreted early on as a fatal bite wound. Subsequent study by Field Museum paleontologists found no bite marks. The distortion and breakage seen in some of the bones in the back of the skull was likely caused by post-mortem trampling. Some of the tail vertebrae are fused in a pattern typical of arthritis due to injury. The animal is also believed to have suffered from gout. Scholars debate exactly how the animal died; the cause of death is ultimately unknown.[page needed]


"Sue" and other specimens to scale with a human

Sue has a length of 12.3–12.4 meters (40.4–40.7 ft) along the centra, stands 3.66–3.96 meters (12–13 ft) tall at the hips, and has been estimated at between 8.4–14 metric tons (9.26–15.4 short tons) as of 2018. In 2011, other size estimates were between 9.5–18.5 metric tons (10.5–20.4 short tons), although the authors stated that their upper and lower estimates were based on models with wide possible errors, and that they "consider them [these extremes] to be too skinny, too fat, or too disproportionate". A further estimate portrayed a leaner build, placing the specimen at 8.4 metric tons (9.3 short tons), while older estimates have placed this specimen at 5.7–6.4 metric tons (6.3–7.1 short tons) in weight. Displayed separately from the whole body, the skull weighs 272 kg (600 lb). The longest known gastralium (belly rib) among theropods, measuring about 90 centimeters (3.0 ft), is known from this specimen. Sue also has the longest known pubis currently measured among the Cretaceous theropods, measuring roughly 136 centimeters (4.46 ft). Sue is one of the largest Tyrannosaurus specimens, with "Scotty": RSM P2523.8 the only specimen with a similar size.


Sue as originally mounted in Stanley Field Hall

After the bones were prepared, photographed and studied, they were sent to New Jersey where work began on making the mount. This work consists of bending steel to support each bone safely and to display the entire skeleton articulated as it was in life. The real skull was not incorporated into the mount as subsequent study would be difficult with the head 4 m (13 ft) off the ground. Parts of the skull had been crushed and broken and thus appeared distorted. This also provides scientists with easier access to the skull as they continue to study it. The museum made a cast of the skull, and altered this cast to remove the distortions, thus approximating what the original undistorted skull may have looked like. The cast skull was also lighter, allowing it to be displayed on the mount without the use of a steel upright under the head. The original skull is exhibited in a case that can be opened to allow researchers access for study. Originally, the Field Museum had plans to incorporate Sue into their preexisting dinosaur exhibit on the second floor, but had little left in their budget to do so after purchasing it. Instead, the T. rex was put on display near the entrance on the first floor of the museum where it would remain for the next 18 years.

Sue was unveiled on May 17, 2000, with more than 10,000 visitors. John Gurche, a paleoartist, painted a mural of a Tyrannosaurus for the exhibit.

New suite (2019)

With the correct furcula in place, the shoulders are lowered and meet in the middle of the chest – bringing the arms closer to the ground.

In early 2018, Sue was dismantled and moved to its own gallery in the Evolving Planet exhibit hall. Opened on December 21, 2018, the reassembly is intended to reflect the newest scientific theories, as well include the proper furcula and attachment of the gastralia to the rest of the skeleton. The new, 5,100 square-foot exhibit includes animated videos of Sue that are projected in 6K onto nine-foot tall panes behind its skeleton. Atlantic Productions worked with the Field Museum, as well as Chicago's Adler Planetarium, to create multiple animated sequences, including Sue scavenging an Ankylosaurus carcass, battling a Triceratops, and hunting an Edmontosaurus. According to the Field Museum's curator of dinosaurs, paleontologist Pete Makovicky, the suite was designed to accentuate the size and stature of Sue, and although smaller, the exhibit allows for a more intimate display of the T. rex, along with the skull of a Triceratops and other Cretaceous period artifacts, such as shark teeth and pachycephalosaurid bones. Sue's real skull is studied so often that it is kept in a separate display in the exhibition.

Tyrannosaurus imperator debate

In a 2022 study, Gregory S. Paul and colleagues argued that Tyrannosaurus rex, as traditionally understood, actually represents three species: the type species Tyrannosaurus rex, and two new species: T. imperator (meaning "tyrant lizard emperor") and T. regina (meaning "tyrant lizard queen"). The holotype of the former (T. imperator) is the Sue specimen, and the holotype of the latter (T. regina) is Wankel rex. Paul interpreted Sue to represent an earlier population of Tyrannosaurus, which speciated into T. rex and T. regina.

However, several other leading paleontologists, including Stephen Brusatte, Thomas Carr, Thomas Holtz, David Hone, Jingmai O'Connor, and Lindsay Zanno, criticized the study or expressed skepticism of its conclusions when approached by various media outlets for comment. Their criticism was subsequently published in a technical paper. Holtz remarked that, even if Tyrannosaurus imperator represented a distinct species from Tyrannosaurus rex, it may represent the same species as Nanotyrannus lancensis and would need to be called Tyrannosaurus lancensis. O'Connor, a curator at the Field Museum, where the T. imperator holotype Sue is displayed, regarded the new species as too poorly supported to justify modifying the exhibit signs.

In the media

VOA report about Sue's new exhibit

A 1997 episode of the PBS show Nova, "Curse of the T. Rex", discussed the history of the discovery and ensuing legal challenges.

Director Todd Miller's documentary Dinosaur 13, which is about Sue's discovery and subsequent legal actions, appeared at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

In 2015, an episode of NPR's Planet Money discussed the acquisition of Sue from a financial and legal perspective.

The personified dinosaur, through Sue's official Twitter and Field Museum press releases, uses the singular they pronoun as the specimen's sex has not been determined.

Sue was featured in the Dresden Files book series book 7, Dead Beat, as being part of the Field Museum exhibits; the central character later uses Sue to ride into battle as a reanimated zombie T. rex.

The show Dinosaurs: Inside and Out extensively discussed Sue and mentioned they succumbed to a fatal bite to the back of the head by another T. rex.

Sue was the subject of a 2000 educational computer game called "I See SUE," which was published by Simon and Schuster Interactive.

See also


  1. ^ The name officially is stylized in all capital letters: SUE. This helps distinguish the specimen from its discoverer, Sue Hendrickson.
  2. ^ Another specimen called 'Scotty' was reported in 2019 to be the largest.

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