Why We Don’t Dress Up SUE (Or Any Other Real Skeletons)

Two large dinosaurs, one wearing a Cubs jersey

Lucille Carver is the Social Media Strategist at The Field Museum. Bill Simpson, Collection Manager, Fossil Vertebrates, contributed to this post.

Here at The Field Museum, we often show our Chicago pride by outfitting our Brachiosaurus plastic mounted skeleton on the west side of the building with an oversized team jersey. Whenever we do this, it creates a flurry of questions and comments about why we don’t do this with SUE, too. Here’s why you won’t see SUE decked out in festive attire. 

It’s not a lack of interest in competitive sports: though SUE looks pretty tough, she’s composed of real fossils (90 percent complete). In contrast, the Brachiosaurus is a weatherproof mounted “skeleton” made of plastic bones and a metal armature. The mount is a combination of plastic cast bones from Field Museum’s holotype of Brachiosaurus altithorax, and plastic sculpted bones based on the African giant, Giraffatitan brancai (a close relative of Brachiosaurus), in the Museum für Naturkunde, in Berlin.  

Despite being created based on two different but related real fossils, this particular plastic skeleton, and the same plastic skeleton found in O’Hare airport, are made from durable materials that make it possible to show them without having to worry about damage to real fossils.

SUE, on the other hand is the real thing. The skeleton consists of real bones displayed on a special mount in Stanley Field Hall. This mount allows each bone to be removed for study so that all the details of each bone can be seen without the metal armature in the way. SUE is the most complete T. rex skeleton by bone volume, at 90 percent complete, which makes it important for us to take extra special care of her. Paleontologists from all over the world come to Chicago to study her. While her bones have been well preserved, they are still extremely delicate. For this reason, we won’t put any kind of material on her skeleton, thus avoiding any unnecessary risks. Our collection manager takes great lengths to care for SUE and ensure her safety so that visitors can see her and scientists can study her for years to come.