Sue The T. Rex Is Making Big Moves With Her Big Bones

Feb 10, 2018

Fiona the hippo may be one of the greatest living social media stars of the decade, but in terms of those who aren't living, look no further than Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Though she's a fossil, Sue is a true Chicagoan and has been on display in her home at The Field Museum since 2000.

Like many of us these days, Sue is sassy and shares her hot takes on Twitter with adoring fans.

"Sue is the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex. She's also the largest," says Bill Simpson, head of the geological collections at the Field Museum. "So yeah, she's, I would argue, one of the most famous fossils."

Now, Sue is making a big move.

She's going from the main exhibit hall to her own private suite on the second floor. Because of her size, age, and yes, the fact that she's not exactly living and able to move herself, she's getting some help.

Bone by bone, her move began on Monday, starting with the feet — specifically the tarsals and metatarsals.

Then, she lost her tail — vertebra by vertebra — all the while keeping the public updated on her progress and leaving no one behind.

As Sue comes off her mount, the skeleton crew uses Allen wrenches to take each piece apart, the same tools you might use on IKEA furniture.

Despite being a main attraction for visitors, Simpson says Sue is still used for research. As such, every bone gets its own photo shoot and is then labeled and cataloged for future use, before being packed into foam padding and taken upstairs.

Once she's fully dismantled, Sue will take a bit of vacation and won't be back on display until 2019. But when she is, she'll be even bigger and have a slightly different look.

"What will really strike them as the biggest change to the skeleton will be that we're going to add structures referred to as belly ribs," Simpson says. "They basically complete the rib change."

These belly ribs, or gastralia as they're called, are not new, but Simpson says the museum didn't have time to add them before.

Now, the museum has a rare second shot to mount Sue, giving her a more accurate and realistic look.

"It'll give her this big ponderous belly that will make her look a lot bigger," Simpson says.

Along with some adjustments to her legs and posture, Sue will be reunited with her wishbone, which will change the position of her arms.

But in the meantime, you can find Sue on Twitter tweeting about Portillo's hot dogs, Jeff Goldblum and Jurassic Park, all while reminding kids she could eat them in one bite.

For now, just chomp on that.

The audio for this story was produced by Christina Cala and edited by Selena Simmons-Duffin. Wynne Davis adapted it for Web.

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A Chicagoan named Sue is in the middle of a big move.


She has got a huge Twitter presence, lots of fans. And even though she's only moving upstairs, it is expected to take months with a team called the skeleton crew.

SHAPIRO: Not trying to be rude here, but Sue is a fossil.

BILL SIMPSON: Sue is the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex. She's also the largest. So, yeah, she's - I would argue - one of the most famous fossils.

SHAPIRO: That's Bill Simpson of the Chicago Field Museum, where Sue has been on display since 2000.

SIMPSON: I'm the one that cleans her a couple times a year, so, yeah, I think I know Sue pretty well.

KELLY: Now Sue is getting taken apart, bone by bone. It started on Monday with her feet bones, the tarsals and metatarsals. Then she lost her tail, vertebrae by vertebrae.

SHAPIRO: The skeleton crew uses Allen wrenches to take each piece apart, the same tools you might use on IKEA furniture. They photograph, label and catalog each bone. Then they pack the bone into foam padding and move it upstairs.

KELLY: Throughout the process, Sue has been weighing in on Twitter. And she is pretty sassy for a theropod, it turns out. She fights with her rival dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium. She reminds school kids that she could eat them easily.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, after some disassembly, she tweeted...


SHAPIRO: And when someone asked to be her Valentine, she replied...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'll be, like, two-thirds in a box, so...

KELLY: (Laughter) She also spends a lot of time adoring Jeff Goldblum - a "Jurassic Park" fan, obviously.


KELLY: Sue the T. rex will be roaring back into business totally reassembled on the second floor of The Field Museum in 2019.

SHAPIRO: If you're in Chicago, you can still stop by and see her as she gets disassembled. If you're not, you can always follow the skeleton's sassy takes on Twitter - @SUEtheTrex. With slightly less sassy takes, this program is on Twitter - @npratc. Medium sassy, I'm @arishapiro.

KELLY: (Laughter) Nowhere near as sassy, I'm @NPRkelly.

And we're going to welcome Audie Cornish. She's back on the show on Monday after maternity leave. You can follow what she's up to this weekend - @nprAudie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.