No Dinosaurs Gere: 'Permian Monsters' Exhibit Opens at Drexel University's Natural Sciences Museum

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Titanophoneus is an extinct meat-eater that had a long heavy snout on a 2-feet-six-inch skull. Photo by Gondwana Studios

They look like dinosaurs. They sound like dinosaurs. They probably even smell like dinosaurs (if there was any way to know that for sure).

Yet, the creatures at the new special exhibit at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (usually known as the dinosaur museum) are not the nightmares of Jurassic Park. Titled “Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs,” the exhibit features what just might be the parents and grandparents of the more famous giants.

“Who hasn’t wanted to be transported to another world during this past year,” said Ted Daeschler, a research paleontologist at the museum and a professor of geosciences at Drexel University. “We all love dinosaurs. There is not a single dinosaur in this room. We are looking at another world. This exhibit is a portal into a world that few have actually seen. Yet, it’s a world that played a very consequential role in the history of ecosystems and the history of life on earth.”

So, whether it be a shark that looks like it has a circular saw in its mouth or strange reptile precursors of mammals, a vicious giant saber-toothed gorgonopsid, visitors will discover extinct creatures that ruled the world millions of years before the dinosaurs.

Dinocephalian Estemmenosuchus from Permian Monsters. Photo by Gondwana Studios

The Permian period took place 299 to 251 million years ago, a relatively short time period in the history of the world, but, you know, a bit ago.

“The first thing I would say to visitors coming into this exhibit is, ‘Remember, dinosaurs are a specific group of animals,’” Daeschler said. “They dominated just a part of geologic time. The world of the dinosaurs was preceded by other worlds and other casts of characters.”

The world these creatures roamed was mostly a large land mass (Pangea) surrounded by a large sea. The land was mostly dry, the interior of which probably saw little or no rainfall. So, the animals had to adapt.

While they look like lizards and other reptiles we might know today, they are actually quite different.

An animatronic Dinocephalian Titanophoneus with a mural backdrop of its setting. Photo by Gondwana Studios

“Back in this exhibit, you will see large, toothy, reptile-like animals that are not reptiles at all,” said Daeschler. “They are actually part of a Permian explosion of diversity within another group of land-living, limbed animals. Most branches of this dramatic, synapsid diversity did not reach past the Permian period.”

While many don’t exactly know what happened to these animals, many scientists believe the mass extinction was because, of all things, global warming.

“Among those that did survive, which weren’t many, are the precursors of mammals,” Daeschler said. “So we, as mammals, are part of the same branch from the tree of life as many of these large, reptile-like forms.”

“Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs” was set to open in November, but the COVID-19 shut down of the museums caused a bit of a delay. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is now back open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a members-only hour from 10 to 11 a.m. each day.

Cacops model in Permian Monsters. Photo by Gondwana Studios

There are, of course, safety protocols.

Visitors and staff will be required to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing of 6 feet. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the museum and plexiglass partitions installed in the admissions areas. Strenuous high-grade cleaning and sanitizing will take place at regular intervals throughout each day.

In order to limit the number of visitors in the building at any one time to 25% capacity and to limit contact at check-in, admission will be by timed ticket sold online in advance. Time slots will start at the top of the hour, with the last ticket of the day issued for 4 p.m. A number of tickets will be available at the door, but visitors may have to wait for a time slot to become available.

Full details on purchasing tickets and other admissions issues are available at The Academy of Natural Science's website.