WASHINGTON — It’s the stuff of nightmares. It’s 9 feet longer than the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex, it weighs 6 tons and it has curved, blade- like claws.
Meet Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.
The specimen, unveiled Thursday by National Geographic and the University of Chicago, is the first truly, semiaquatic dinosaur.
Fossils of the massive Cretaceous-era predator suggest that the creature adopted to water 95 million years ago. It is believed to be the largest predatory dinosaur to ever roam the Earth.
“Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space,” says paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim. “It’s unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen.”
Some of its characteristics include:
- It is 50 feet long, 20 feet high and weighs 6 tons
- Small nostrils located high up on the skull, close to the eyes so the creature could put its snout in the water, but still breathe
- Neurovascular openings at the end of the snout similar to openings on crocodile and alligator snouts
- Giant, slanted teeth that interlocked at the front of the snout for catching fish
- A long neck and trunk that shifted the dinosaur’s center of mass forward for swimming
- Powerful forelimbs with curved, blade-like claws for catching slippery prey
- A small pelvis and short hind legs with muscular thighs – a trait similar to whales that helps with paddling in water
- Strong, long-boned feet and long, flat claws
- Loosely connected bones in the dinosaur’s tail that enable it to bend in a wave-like fashion
- Enormous dorsal spines covered in skin that created a gigantic “sail” on the dinosaur’s back
Because of its semiaquatic habitat, scientists believe Spinosaurus dined on prehistoric sharks and other underwater behemoths. It lived in an environment surrounded by other predators such as the T. rex and giant birds of prey, which probably inspired Spinosaurus’ pescatarian diet.
The first reported discovery of Spinosaurus fossils were found in Egypt more than 100 years ago by German paleontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach. Unfortunately, all of his findings were destroyed in April 1944 when the allies bombed Munich.
But in 2008, Ibrahim was in Morocco on a quest for Spinosaurus. It wasn’t going well. He had heard of a local dealer who might know where some bones were, but couldn’t find him. Ibrahim had given up hope and was contemplating returning home while sitting in a cafe. He looked up and spotted the dealer walking by.
They went to a Moroccan dig site and found a mostly complete set of bones.
Spinosaurus, which grew some 9 feet longer than Tyrannosaurus rex, feasted on aquatic creatures the size of cars in an area that was history’s “most dangerous place,” Ibrahim says. Three giant predators nearly the size of a T. rex roamed on land. Even the sky had giant predators. And in the water 25- foot sharks, giant sawfish and six or seven types of ancient nasty crocodiles lurked.
Scientists also looked at a partial Spinosaurus skull and other remains housed in museum collections from around the world. The team then created a digital model of the skeleton and combined that with a digital recreation of Stromer’s findings.
“We relied upon cutting-edge technology to examine, analyze and piece together a variety of fossils,” says Simone Maganuco from the the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy.
Finally, researchers created an anatomically correct, life-size 3-D replica of Spinosaurus.
This replica will be featured in a new exhibit at the National Geographic Museum from Sept. 12 to April 12. Click here for more information.
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