Animatronic Dinosaurs Come to Life at Naples Botanical Garden

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Animatronic dinosaurs come to life at Naples Botanical Garden

Lurking in the ancient tropical ferns and shrubs of the Naples Botanical Garden, a nearly 8-foot-tall Utahraptor growled and hissed, with its menacing, curved talons and a coat of feathers made of synthetic hair.

It was the alpha predator approximately 124 million years ago, and now a life-size, animatronic version of the Utahraptor and nine other dinosaurs will be on display at the the Naples Botanical Garden starting Saturday.

The exhibit, "Dinosaurs: Back with a Roar!", will run until June 3, and is included in regular garden admission.

There's a 15-foot-tall, winged Quetzalcoatlus and her nest at the front of the Kapnick Brazilian Garden, and in the Scott Florida Garden, a 6-foot-tall Citipati that has a blue-colored, spiky tongue and looks sort of like funky emu.

The dinosaurs are part of a traveling exhibit by Texas-based The Dinosaur Co., which brings its menagerie of prehistoric creatures to zoos, museums and gardens across the country.

Each dino is fitted with an electronic brain to activate sounds and realistic-looking movements in the eyes, mouth, neck and limbs. The Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, stands on its hind legs to reach 40 feet, and the Dilophosaurus squirts water out of its mouth.

The animatronic dinosaurs follow key details from paleontological findings and research from around the world. The colors and patterns, meanwhile, are left to the imagination.

Still, the team from The Dinosaur Co. has modeled the dinos after modern-day birds and reptiles, the closest living relatives.

"Those colorations and those patterns are based off of native animals, so they can tell a story," said Robby Gilbert, the company's director of exhibits.

The Amargasaurus and her baby have the same green skin and yellow spots as the Cuban knight anole, an invasive lizard species in South Florida, and the Florida snail kite, an endangered bird of prey, inspired the grayish colors of the T-Rex.

The Dilophosaurus, though, is painted red, orange and purple with bright yellow teeth — the winning entry in a children's coloring contest.

Garden staff and volunteers spent the days leading up to the opening planting ancient shrubs and ferns around the dinosaurs, including cyads, podocarpus and a Norfolk Island Pine lookalike.

"You’ll see all these cyads and these ferns, very primitive, very early plants that would have been around as long as dinosaurs or longer," Gilbert said. "Here, the dinosaurs are almost secondary to the plants. Kids are here to see the dinosaurs, but garden members are here to learn about the plants."

The garden's youngest visitors can climb atop the lounging Pachyrhinosaurus for a photo, or dig in a sand pit for fossils of a Hadrosaurid.

But the garden-lover will be able to explore the relationship between the ancient creatures and the ancient plants that cohabited all those years ago.

"In Florida you’ve got the palms, everything’s very tropical," Gilbert said. "It looks very similar to what would have been alive during the dinosaurs, just smaller."

Dinosaurs: Back with Roar!
at Naples Botanical Garden

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; early admission at 8 a.m. Tuesdays

Where: Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Drive, East Naples

Cost: Included in regular garden admission; $14.95 for adults; $9.95 for children ages 4 to 14; free for children younger than 3