Your very own T.rex

Dinosaur collectors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are snapping up fossils for enormous sums.

In 2007, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage engaged in a bidding war over a 32-inch Tyrannosaurus bataar skull, cranking up the price to US$276,000. At that point, Cage walked away with the prize, reports webzine The Week.

Eccentric as it might seem, dinosaur collecting actually has a fairly large number of devotees. Brad Pitt is one, along with film directors James Cameron and Ron Howard. Nathan Myhrvold, former chief of technology at Microsoft, has a full Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton encased in a glass solarium in his home. And Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker, kept a T.rex skull cast in his office.

Why collect such items? According to Dennis Tanjeloff, president and CEO of Astro Gallery of Gems, and an avid trader of dinosaur fossils, the ideal dinosaur collector is a “grown-up boy who never got over the revelation that prehistoric creatures were real,” reports The Week. As that boy got older, “he began to process what 200 million years means, and was still enraptured by the thought of a creature that ate three tons of vegetation a day and needed 3,000 teeth to chew dinner,” Tanjeloff told The Week.

Rich collectors are now throwing huge amounts of money into the game, inflating prices so much that museums can no longer afford to buy fossils found on private land. As Mark Norell, chairman of the division of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told The Week: “If there is a great amateur discovery, don’t you think it should advance science?”

Fortunately, Tanjeloff estimates that about 80% of the time, buyers don’t hold on to their purchases and their “creatures” land in a museum or university.