Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Awesome Spinosaurs pt 1. - History

Hello, everyone! Welcome back! Lately, I'll admit that I haven't been working on the my latest stop-motion series episode, "Planet of the Dinosaurs: The Tropical Poles." But this coming week, I'll be back on it! I still hope to get it complete by the end of this month.

With my one and only update out of the way, here's today's non-fiction article. I hope you learn a lot from it:

When I say “dinosaur”, what comes to mind? Perhaps the horned and frilled Triceratops, or the plated Stegosaurus, or maybe the long-necked sauropods. What about when I say “name me the largest carnivorous dinosaur you can think of”. Most would undoubtedly say, “Tyrannosaurus rex”, and indeed, T. rex is a force to be reckoned with. It's big, bad and has a four-foot long jaw with 13-inch teeth. But there are so many other theropods (a dinosaur of a group whose members are bipedal and range from small and delicately built to very large, most ate meat) that the general public doesn't no about. Henry Fairfield Osborn, the president of the America Museum of Natural History gave T. rex its name, which means “Tyrant Lizard King”, in 1905. Ever since its discovery, it became the most famous dinosaur of all. This 43-foot long menace was thought to be the largest carnivore ever to walk the earth, and it stayed that way until the 1990's. Scientists started finding larger and larger carnivores, but the biggest of all was discovered a fairly long time ago. It's name is – Spinosaurus aegypticus. But this monster went through a lot of “hard times” before it earned the title. Come along for the ride as we learn more about one of the strangest dinosaur you've probably never heard of!

Spinosaurus aegypticus, the largest carnivore ever to walk the earth!
The first fossils of this strange dinosaur were discovered in Bahariya Formation in western Egypt in 1912 by paleontologist and German aristocrat Ernst Stromer – seven years after T. rex was named. The fossils of this dinosaur he found were far from a complete skeleton, but they were enough to tell him that he'd found and completely new species. The only bones he found was a long skull, some teeth and some tall  vertebrae, many up to 165 cm long! Stromer believed, as many of today's scientists, that these supported a large sail that stood six to seven feet tall!
Some vertebrae of Spinosaurus stood over six feet tall!
In 1915, he named the creature Spinosaurus aegypticus, which apply means “Spine Lizard from Egypt,” after those spines on its back. Stromer shipped the bones to a museum in Munich, Germany for a special exhibition. He also argued that Spinosaurus was much larger than T. rex. Unfortunately for Stromer, his fossils didn't have long to be around. Why?

Well, I guess you could say human history collided with prehistory. Something terrible happened to the museum the Spinosaurus was being held in. During World War II, the Nazi headquarters were right in front of the museum with our Spino fossils, so on the tragic day of April 24, 1944, the Nazi headquarters were bombed, along with the first Spinosaurus skeleton ever found. That's not all they blew up either; along with the Spinosaurus remains were the fossils of another creature Stromer discovered, called Carcharodontosaurus. All that remain of the original Spinosaurus remains are Stromer's detailed sketches, descriptions and photographs.

Without a Spinosaurus skeleton, scientists weren't quite sure about this dinosaur. They couldn't make an accurate depiction of this beast. For the next 31 years, Spinosaurus' trail would be as cold as an ice cube in the middle of Antarctica. During this time, Spinosaurus was depicted as a four-legged, quadrupedal carnosaur with a sail on its back and four-fingered hands. Carnosaurs such as the relatively famous Allosaurus are dinosaurs with more roundish skulls. The only way scientists would be able to get a more complete picture of this dinosaur would be to find a “missing link”, not like the fictional missing links in evolutionary dogma, but the missing link that connects us to knowing more about this dinosaur.
Stromer's sketch of Spinosaurus' jawbone.
Finally, in 1983, scientists got a “lucky” break. An amatuer fossil hunter named William Walker discovered the hand claw of a dinosaur later named Baryonyx. Now when scientists uncovered the almost complete specimen of this new dinosaur, they finally realized that they had seen many of the bones in Baryonyx in another dinosaur: Spinosaurus! And indeed, after fully describing the bones, it became clear that Spinosaurus and Baryonyx are closely related. Unlike many of the drawings and pictures of Spinosaurus after the original specimen was destroyed, Baryonyx had a crocodile-like snout with conical-shaped teeth. These two animals were not carnosaurs at all. They are so different that scientists placed them in their own family (or possibly “baramin” in baraminology): the “spinosaurids”, or “spinosaurs.”

The skeleton of Baryonyx bears much resemblance to the skeleton of Spinosaurus
Thanks to Baryonyx, we now can be pretty sure of what Spinosaurus looked like
As if that weren't enough, more spinosaurids were being discovered in Europe and northern Africa. And if THAT weren't enough, in 1996, another Spinosaurus specimen was dug up in the Kem Kem Beds of northern Morocco, Africa by the paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team. By 2002, The Civic Natual History Museum in Milan obtained a skull of Spinosaurus and Cristiano Dal Sasso and his team of colleagues studied the fossils of Spinosaurus extensively. They found out many things about Spinosaurus that scientists never knew about before, but perhaps one of the most astounding things they learned about Spinosaurus was that Stromer was right all those years ago about the size of this animal - it was bigger than T. rex. In fact, as 59 feet long, it was the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever to walk the earth!
A size comparison of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs (PHOTO CREDITS)

I hope you enjoyed learning about the history of Spinosaurus. But we're far from done learning about this beast, there's much, much more! Next week, be sure to come back to this site and read my friend Joy's article and the week after that, we'll learn some more about the largest killer ever to walk the earth.

So long for now!

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