There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a six year old’s eyes get wide in terror as he backs away from an oncoming Tyrannosaurus Rex. Even when that T-Rex, a juvenile, is just an incredibly lifelike puppet at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

Being the home of Hollywood, it seems obvious that the LA Museum of Natural History couldn’t just have dry old dinosaur bones on display. They need something flashier, more exciting, more high tech. So they have two life-size, incredibly life-like* juvenile dinosaur puppets that walk around the museum and interact with the guests.

The two puppets are a T-Rex and a Triceratops, each of whom appears one day out of the weekend. They alternate, depending on which puppeteer is working that day, so a call ahead can help make sure that you’re seeing the right dino. Today I decided to wing it and got lucky – it was a fat bellied, protofeathered T-Rex which whom I got to have a close encounter.

Yes, protofeathered. A big part of the presentation is showing the dinos according to the modern understanding of them. The juvenile T-Rex looks more than a little like a chicken, and he’s covered in a soft, downy fur. The educators – who double as puppeteers – actually take a moment to stand the T-Rex straight up, so that he stands like the earliest depictions of the dinosaur, showing us how silly that is, then they allow him to drop to his natural predatory position.

The T-Rex moves around the crowd, sniffing and grunting at squealing little kids. It’s kind of amazing to watch, and when the dinosaur came over to me, his eyes blinking and his nose snuffling, I had to remind myself it was just a dude named Mike inside a foam rubber suit. It looks that good.

The dinosaur encounter currently runs twice a day on weekends, but it’s so popular that they’re going to be upping it to four times a day. The dinosaur encounter itself is more than worth the $9 admission for adults, and short of the genius of John Hammond, it’s the closest you’ll get to meeting a real dinosaur.

For more info, click here to visit the museum’s page.

* T-Rex has an anus!!!!