The bones of the Earth’s most fearsome dinosaur had been sitting underneath what is now an Egyptian desert for 97 million years. In 1912, German paleontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach discovered them. But the bombing runs of World War II destroyed his collection. Picking up Reichenbach’s pieces, University of Chicago paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim has now finally brought the dinosaur back to life and published the results in the journal Science.
Simply put, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus — named for the Moroccan sands it was found under — was the most badass predator to walk on land. It was at least 10 feet (3 meters) longer than a Tyrannosaurus rex, measuring over 50 feet (15 meters). It had a gigantic, bony sail and an elongated snout holding conical teeth the length of steak knives.
But Spinosaurus didn’t exactly walk on land. Spinosaurus is one of the first dinosaurs to display specific adaptations to swimming through, and living in, the water. This aquatic predator is the closest thing to Godzilla we’ve ever unearthed.
We know that this giant meat-eater spent much of its time in the water because of the evolutionary history we gleaned from its bones. Spinosaurus‘ long crocodile-like snout had nostrils specialized to stay above a water line. Its super-dense bones likely helped the massive creature maintain buoyancy. Its feet could have been webbed from how the bones were structured and the bony sail — two meters tall, the largest of any dinosaur — could have been a sexytime display, unseen to underwater prey but an advertisement to other spinosaurids above water.
In fact, Spinosaurus might have spent the majority of its time in the water, given its long neck, extended torso, and (relatively) puny legs. Distinctly small thighs and narrow hips probably meant that chasing down land animals wasn’t Spinosaurus‘ main hunting strategy. It was probably the singular scourge of ancient African rivers.
Given that science has now definitely described a dino much fiercer than a T. rex, can you imagine a battle between Spinosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, ala Jurassic Park 3? (You know, if the animals lived on the same continent and weren’t millions of years apart in history?) I say, let them fight.
You can read much more about Spinosaurus in this fantastic National Geographic feature and this article in the same magazine. PBS’ science show NOVA will be premiering a whole show on the awesomeness of Spinosaurus November 5th.
IMAGES: Model: Mike Hettwer, assisted by Mark Thiessen, NGM Staff, Artistic recreations: Davide Bonadonna