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T-rex wants to be friends with you ; Facebook invitation adds interest prior to opening of exhibit

Tyrannosaurus rex is hardly a dinosaur when it comes to modern technology.

The fiercest of all dinos also shows a soft side while avoiding meaty subjects on the Buffalo Museum of Science's Facebook page.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Interested in: Meating someone special. Taking long strolls looking for meat, and more meat."

"Relationship status: Extinct -- let's not live in the past."

Stegosaurus, a potential meal for T-rex despite a spiked tail used for defense, seemed to have the "Terrible Lizard" in mind on one entry:

"Activities: Walking to get food, looking for food, trying not to be food."

Putting these marquee dinosaurs and others on Facebook by clicking on the museum's Web site (www.sciencebuff.org), to coincide with Saturday's opening of "Robotic Dinosaurs," was the brainchild of Thom Furtado, the museum's director of operations and exhibits.

"Let's do something different, fresh," Furtado recalled saying during a planning meeting on how to present the popular traveling exhibition, last seen at the museum in 2003. "Let's say dinosaurs are like humans, too. They hunt, they eat, they raise their kids, they do all the same stuff we do."

"They've got drama," added Amy Biber, the museum's marketing manager.

"I thought, hey, let's use Facebook, let's give them a Facebook page, and we figured it out and went for it," Furtado said.

Saturday also marks the public opening of the museum's new $130,000 3-D cinema, which will include a surround sound system and new screen. Also new is a concession stand that includes a candy counter and popcorn and soda machines.

Opening are two short films showing twice daily, "Dinosaurs 3-D: Giants of Pantagonia," which will play for six months, and "SOS Planet 3-D," which will have a two-year run.

There is an extra charge for the movies, with members getting a discount.

A members-only preview will be held today.

There have been no Facebook comments so far on how the dinosaurs feel about getting the 3-D star treatment. But using Facebook for the exhibition is shaping up as a real test.

"Kokoro, the makers of this, are very interested because no one has ever thought of using Facebook this way in an exhibit," Furtado said. "A lot of people are interested in seeing how this experiment works out."

There will be nine installations for "Robotic Dinosaurs" in the Temporary Exhibit Gallery on the second floor, plus a large flying pteranodon hanging out near the entrance.

The dinosaurs, made from foam with a latexlike covering, are known for moving and making sounds. Lighting effects and an assortment of backdrops created by staff will provide a jungle ambience.

A low-lying fog machine will be used in one nighttime scene that shows a full-scale, gazelle-like tenontosaurus bloodied and gashed to death by a pack of deinonychus, larger relatives to the velociraptor of "Jurassic Park" fame.

It's the only scene in the exhibit, marketed to children 4 and up, that will be too grisly for some.

"It may scare some kids, yeah," Furtado said. "We had 'Bug Bash,' cartoony foam and plastic bugs hanging on the ceiling in Hamlin Hall, and I saw kids frozen at the entry."

Some kids also may be spooked when confronted by a T-Rex that stands 75 percent of its nearly 50-foot actual size, showing off a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth.

"I can imagine there might be some kids that, when they see T-Rex staring them down, might turn and run, because he roars, and the lighting will be very dramatic," Furtado said.

They are, after all, dinosaurs.

In contrast, corythosaurus, a duckbilled dinosaur, hovers over three babies hatching from eggs.

The three previous dinosaur exhibits were among the most well-attended in the museum's history, with 250,000 entering the doors over a five-month run in 1998.

"Dinosaurs are just very popular," said Mark Mortenson, the museum's president and chief executive officer. "This has been a very popular exhibit, and the excitement continues to be out there in the community. We essentially have a whole new crop of people who have never seen it."

There will be a small activity area, with a dinosaur dig box where kids can unleash their inner paleontologist by using brushes and trowels to discover dinosaur bones under a bed of pellets.

Rubbing stations will allow kids to get profiles of dinosaurs, and a hands-on control box will show how the stripped-down, steel frame of a duckbill moves.

The exhibition will run through Oct. 10.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com