Millions of years ago, giant lizards swam around Lawrence. The ocean where they lived dried up long ago, but you can find one of these creatures at the Kansas University Natural History Museum.
"People sometimes think it's a dragon," says Lindsay Ohse, visitor services employee and front desk attendant at the Kansas University Natural History Museum.
A mosasaur's skeleton dangles from the ceiling, right above the front doors. Its body spirals down from the ceiling, mouth gaping. Ohse says the 62-foot mosasaur generally stops visitors in their tracks when they notice what's above them.
"It's very amusing to sit at the front desk and watch people walk in," Ohse says.
The museum is beefing up its mosasaur exhibit in time for the release of National Geographic's IMAX movie, "Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure." National Geographic filmed a scene at the museum for the movie last summer.
"We do have fossils here (at the museum) that are representative of the storyline of the movie," Jennifer Humphrey says, communications director for the Natural History Museum.
Bruce Scherting, exhibits director, says that the museum will add newer, updated labels to the exhibit, in addition to new artwork. Painter Dan Darner has worked on a painting that depicts a shark attacking a mosasaur.
The exhibit will also hold mosasaur fossil casts, like teeth, so people have a hands-on experience with the mosasaur. With the casts, visitors may get a feeling for the lizard's size.
"It's not going to be really in depth so that people will actually read (it)," Sherting says of the exhibit's new information.
The exhibit's planning and construction is still in the preliminary stage, and it won't open until a date closer to film's release.
National Geographic Giant Screen Films will release the film Oct, 5. It mixes animation with computer-generated scenes to show what life was like in the inland ocean that used to cover part of North America during the cretacious period. It also follows paleontologists as they go on digs and discover life forms that appear in the film.
"It shows (the mosasaur's) locomotion and how it moves through the water," Scherting says. He's seen a clip from the film.
National Geographic will also release a video game on the same day that goes along with the film. The background will be similar to the film and let users get an interactive sense of what ocean life was like during the cretacious period.
Humphrey and her team at the museum hope to partner with the Kansas Department of Commerce to showcase historical exhibits like the mosasaur that tie directly to the state's history.
"If (people) see 'Sea Monsters' they have some monsters at the museum (to see), too."