Heard Natural Science Museum

Not long after moving to Texas a few years ago, I learned of the Dallas Paleontological Society, thanks to the mammoth skeleton they had helped to assemble for the Perot Museum. Once I started attending their monthly meetings, one thing in particular stood out to me. One could often see a whimsical scaffolding of Tinker Toys at one of the tables attendees sat at, which suspended a large, half-assembled tortoise skeleton within. Such was my first introduction to the Heard Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary. I learned that the Heard, in collaboration with volunteers from the DPS, planned to display this tortoise among their fossil collection once they had finished assembly. For one reason or another, I didn’t make it there as soon as I would have liked, but just this past week, I finally got around to visiting, along with my boys, my mom, and fellow DPS member Diane!

Here we are, along with some of my favorite Billings models; Pachyrhinosaurus and Acrocanthosaurus.

The Heard Museum has a lot to recommend. The museum itself is on the smallish side, but packs a lot of nature and paleontology education into its building space. Outside the museum one finds even more to engage with. The Heard sits on the grounds of a beautiful nature preserve with walking trails through varied habitats, and every fall, the Heard hosts animatronic dinosaurs from Billings Productions that temporarily inhabit the smaller of the trail loops.

A Billings Utahraptor hungrily eyes some small mammals and baby dinosaurs playing amidst a fossil dig site.

After enjoying the dinosaurs and the nature walk, we spent some time playing at the Heard’s “pioneer village” themed playground, and looking at the animals in their small zoo area. At least a few of the creatures seem to be wildlife rescues, such as a deer with three feet, and an alligator snapping turtle with a malformed, concave shell in the herpetarium (technically back inside the main building nearby).

A deer, some lemurs, and a snapping turtle.

The museum features several rooms devoted to both local wildlife and local fossils, with the latter including mosasaurs (both fossils and a life reconstruction hanging from the ceiling), ammonites, and Pleistocene mammal remains. The aforementioned turtle skeleton, now christened “Tootsie the Tortoise”, site in a prominent place in her own display in the main fossil room. I remember the preparators discussing their options in mounting the skeleton when they were still bringing it to meetings, opting for what they referred to as a “treasure chest” style mount, with the shell tilted off to one side as though on a hinge to better show off the anatomy under the shell. I also saw what appeared to be an indoor fossil sand pit for the kids, next to a recreation of a mammoth dig site, but it was closed off due to Covid regulations at the time of our visit.

Main fossil room on the left, mosasaur model with additional sea fossils on the right.
“Tootsie the Tortoise” (Stylemis nebrascensis), who first directed my attention to the Heard, now sans Tinker Toy scaffolding. Note the unique “treasure chest”-style way in which they mounted the shell.

After praising the Whiteside Museum for their selection of souvenirs, I must likewise commend the Heard for including some quality merchandise among their offerings! In addition to some cool shirts and good books, they featured several Safari Ltd. models in their toy section, including the Hell Creek oviraptor Anzu, local Texan Acrocanthosaurus, and my personal favorite, the beautiful Allosaurus! It might seem a silly thing to focus on, but I find that the products people buy have a big influence on their ongoing education, and so I consider it a must for any self-respecting natural history museum to offer scientifically dinosaur toys if they are serious in their mission to educate the public. (It’s an especially big sticking point for me since all the smaller museums in the general vicinity of the Dallas-Fort Worth area consistently beat the pants off the biggest local institution, the Perot, in this regard, but that’s a gripe for a different review.)

Any museum gift shop that stocks Safari Ltd. models gets high marks from me!

Between Diane and myself, we took pictures of just about the entire museum, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the whole thing for my readers. Hopefully I’ve included just enough to whet your appetite and convince you to visit sometime! I highly recommend a visit to the Heard Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary if you ever find yourself near McKinney, TX (immediately to the north of Dallas), especially during the autumn season! Its well worth the visit, and gets my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!

For other prehistoric Texan attractions, check out my reviews of The Whiteside Museum of Natural History, the Texas Through Time museum, Dinosaur Valley State Park, and the Institute for Creation Research Discovery Center.

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