Where can I see dinosaurs in Florida?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A journey back in time from the steamy heat of Jacksonville to the prehistoric environment of species that captivate the fascination of children and adults alike waits for visitors to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ newest exhibit, Dinosauria.

The interactive trails wind through five distinct eras of prehistory: the Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The animals featured in the Permian section of the exhibit predate dinosaurs.

“The first two animals are actually non-dinosaurs,” said Leanne White, Director of Education for the Jacksonville Zoo. “We wanted to be able to tell a story about animals that were around prior to dinosaurs.”

Allosaurus and stegosaurus

An allosaurus and stegosaurus face off at the Jacksonville Zoo’s Dinosauria exhibit.

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The big hit of the Triassic section: a standoff between stegosaurus and allosaurus. That, and two big piles of poop.

“Obviously when you have animals, and you have dinosaurs, there’s always poop,” White said. “So we have two piles of poop that kids and adults will be able to put their hands into if they’d like.”

Rest assured, the rubbery poop-shaped substance is feces-free. White demonstrated how guests might make the most of the feature by sticking her arm elbow-deep into the hidden piping, recreating the famous scene from “Jurassic Park” in which Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) examines the feces of a sick triceratops.

New this year – an Ice Age exhibit, featuring five different animals. White said, to her knowledge, it’s the first of its kind among zoo dinosaur exhibits.

Wooly rhino

A wooly rhino display is part of the Jax Zoo’s Ice Age section of its new Dinosauria exhibit.

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Despite the towering animatronics, picturesque flora and informative signs along the trails, the real takeaway from the Dinosauria exhibit is the work the zoo is doing to make sure it is inclusive to anyone who might wish to visit. There will be days the exhibit opens an hour before opening to the public just for people with sensory concerns, such as children or adults with autism, with the sounds of the roaring dinosaurs turned off.

Tyrannosaurus rex

A Tyrannosaurus rex leers at guests passing through the Jacksonville Zoo’s Dinosauria exhibit.

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“We want to make sure that all our guests have a fantastic experience, regardless of what it is, and be able to get just as much enjoyment out of an experience as everybody else,” White said.

The fossil dig feature at the end of the trails is also inclusive of people with different abilities. The trails lead guests to a Base Camp with several dig pits for children to play in the sand in search of fossils, and one of those is accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fossil dig

One of three fossil dig stations at the Jax Zoo’s Dinosauria exhibit

First Coast News

Base Camp is also home to one of the many high-tech features waiting to be explored in the Dinosauria exhibit. Sure to be a favorite among the littlest guests, a station of coloring sheets and crayons transforms into an awe-inspiring display as guests’ drawings of their own unique dinosaurs are scanned into an app that brings them to life on-screen.

The high-tech, interactive elements of Dinosauria do not stop there. The zoo is working with a group of local students to develop QR codes that guests can scan from their smartphone to hear an audio file of information on each animal, including the correct pronunciation of its name, which time period it’s from and some fast facts about it.

Guests can also download the Dinosauria Field Guide before arriving at the zoo to identify the different species on display. Once they check in at the ranger station, they will be able to see several fossils on display, including a replica T. rex skull.

The zoo’s goal is for everyone to be able to reconnect with their inner child.

“As a child, everybody loves dinosaurs, right?” White said. “If you’re an adult, if you have children and you loved dinosaurs at one time, you get to bring your children through this experience and live through them through this experience.”

Dinosauria opened Friday at 9 a.m. It costs an additional $5 for nonmembers of the Jacksonville Zoo, or $4 for members. More information is available here.

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