Terror of the South at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, N.C.
Tuesday, April 11, 2023, 9am by visitRaleigh
A very rare (and extremely well-preserved) dinosaur skeleton calls the City of Oaks home. It's the only one of its kind on display in the world!
For more than 20 years now, an awe-inspiring specimen has loomed large at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, N.C.—a silent testament to our planet’s prehistoric past. Here’s what you need to know when planning a visit to see the Terror of the South!
What exactly is the Terror of the South?
Say hello to Acrocanthosaurus, a Cretaceous predator that stalked the southern half of North America nearly 110 million years ago. Scientifically speaking, Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, or “Acro” for short, means “high-spined lizard,” which aptly describes this astounding dinosaur with extremely long spines atop its back, hip and tail vertebrae.
Currently on display at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, this prehistoric titan is the most complete Acrocanthosaurus skeleton ever found and is the only real Acro skelton on display in the world! Marvelously preserved, the skull is one of the most complete dinosaur skulls ever excavated.
Originally found in Oklahoma in the early 1980s and purchased by the museum in 1997, the new exhibit was officially unveiled in Raleigh on April 7, 2000. Since then, it has sparked imagination and inspired learning for many a visitor, young and old.
Often just referred to as "Acro" by visitors, staff at the museum gave the fossil their own nickname—Terror of the South—because of its range (fossils have been found in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah and Maryland).
Don’t call it a T-Rex!
Often mistaken for the more well-known Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Acrocanthosaurus resides in a league of its own. For starters, Acro predated the T-Rex by 45 million years and reigned supreme as the biggest predator of its time (Acro grew to nearly 40 feet long, stood 13 feet tall and weighed more than 5,000 pounds). The T-Rex, in comparison, was taller and one to two tons heavier. Acro however, had bigger spines on its vertebrae and an extra finger (three instead of two) which made it better at gripping its prey. The two species also lived in different regions of North America.
An exhibit like no other
You’ll find the Terror of the South exhibit on the third floor of the Nature Exploration Center of the museum. The mounted skeleton occupies a well-lit, two-story circular atrium and can be viewed from the both the ground (on the third floor of the museum) and the atrium’s balcony (access on the fourth floor). In the same space, you’ll also find a replica of a sauropod, placed in such a way to suggest that the two dinosaurs are locked in mortal combat. Model pterosaurs also circle overhead on a rotating arm.
As you stroll around the exhibit, keep a sharp eye out for recreations of sauropod and theropod tracks. The museum also provides detailed information via display signage and placards about the various specimens and the age in which they lived.
More dinos coming soon
While at the museum, you'll certainly hear about something big coming soon: Dueling Dinosaurs, an exhibit 67 million years in the making, will feature what's thought to be the only 100% complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex in the world (plus a Triceratops skeleton, among the most complete ever found as well). An entire new lab—opening late in 2023—is being built for this exhibit, and visitors will be able to get up close and personal with the fossils and meet some of the scientific team as they uncover long-buried secrets. The TODAY Show recently took a look at how those dinos were uncovered in a recent video piece you can see here!
The state’s most visited museum
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences delights, entertains and educates nearly a million visitors per year with fascinating exhibits, both featured and permanent, about the natural world. The museum’s four floors are divided into two parts—the Nature Exploration Center (where you’ll find the Terror of the South) and the Nature Research Center. Exhibits range from detailed dioramas to actual ecosystems with living animals—all of which can be explored through various self-guided tours.
The museum also hosts lectures, discussions, classes, live scientific programs and more. Visitors can enjoy family-friendly, educational movies inside the SECU Daily Planet—a 70-foot diameter globe that doubles as a three-story theater and a can’t-miss photo opportunity—and immerse themselves in 3D movie showings in the WRAL 3D Theater located in the Nature Exploration Center.
When hunger calls, a meal at either of the museum’s two cafes—one aptly named the Acro Café—will surely satisfy the most voracious of appetites. Browse the two museum stores and shop a wide assortment of books, videos, CDs, natural science kits, minerals, jewelry and other educational toys.
Admission to the museum is free, although purchased tickets are required for most featured exhibitions and films in the WRAL 3D Theater. Access to see the Terror of the South is always free.
Get more details, including museum hours, here.
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