Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spinosaurus: Pharaoh of Egyptian Waterways

Alright guys! I wasn't able to upload the photos of what I got for "Christmas" (actually more like New Year's), so I won't be able to show them to you guys yet. Sorry. I'll try again next week! In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a wonderful 2015. If you've made a New Year's resolution, here's my advice: keep it! LOL! My sister is already on the verge of loosing hers.

Days till:
It is: 10 days till Martin Luther King Jr. Day
It is: 24 days till Groundhog's Day
It is: 36 days till St. Valentine's Day

In the Spotlight:
OK, there's not much on Jurassic World or any other movies I've been following this past week, but according to Mercedes-Benz, their company will be not only supporting Jurassic World the movie, but their all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé will also be in the film! Just check out the pictures below:

Director Colin Trevorrow (the guy on the right) is looking at the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé next to the enclosure for Indominus rex (aka Diabolus rex)!
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé will be on Isla Nublar, but you're unlikely to find it in the Jurassic World gift shop.

The Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé will not be one of the vehicles tourists to Jurassic World will ride. It seems to belong to Claire, the park operations manager.
In other news, states that they believe the movie's hybrid dinosaur will not be named "Diabolus rex", as most have thought; instead, it seems to have the name of Indominus rex, or "I. rex". With a name like that, I'm not sure I'd like to meet this "I. rex" in person, especially since I probably wouldn't live long enough to tell about it!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Even since I published my article about how our perception of Spinosaurus has changed over the years, I had no idea it was about to change...again!
Two years ago, I wrote an article about the largest carnivore God has ever assembled: Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. This hyper-carnivore has had an exciting history, which I described in detail in the aforementioned article I wrote. I spoke of how in 1912, this dinosaur's remains were discovered in the desert of Egypt by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer. These fossils – the only ones known to belong to Spinosaurus at the time – were destroyed in World War II, so we were forced to live with nothing more than a few scant remains of this dinosaur. Then I talked about how more fossil discoveries made over the years, and comparisons made in Spinosaurus' relations, like Baryonyx and Suchomimus helped us piece together what this dinosaur was like in life. But as I wrote that article, I had no clue that a new fossil discovery made (but not announced) that same year (2013) would add another chapter to Spinosaurus' story. This new fossil made out Spinosaurus to be even weirder than we ever imagined.
The white bones are the only fossils Stromer discovered from Spinosaurus. No wonder we were dead wrong when it came to knowing what this animal was like in life.
This new chapter to Spinosaurus' story started with paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim. It had been a burning desire of his to find more Spinosaurus fossils to help paleontologists all over the world learn more about this incredible dinosaur. In 2009, he ran into a fossil collector in Morocco who had discovered some small Spinosaurus fossils. Ibrahim was intrigued by the fossils he saw. Later on, Ibrahim recognized these same fossils when they were found in a museum basement of a museum in Milan.

We thought we knew everything about Spinosaurus, the largest predator ever to walk the earth.
In 2013, Ibrahim decided to continue his search for Spinosaurus fossils and was miraculously able to track down the exact same fossil dealer he met before. The fossil dealer led him to the very place he found the spinosaur fossils before and the excavation began! What Ibrahim and his team discovered was the most complete skeleton of Spinosaurus that was ever discovered; they even discovered many bones that were previously not known from this dinosaur, including feet and leg bones. The fossils were brought back to the University of Chicago so Ibrahim, paleontologist Paul Sereno and others were able to reconstruct the entire skeleton of Spinosaurus using fossils from the new specimen, sketches and photographs of Stromer's destroyed specimen, other scant Spinosaurus remains that have been found over the years and fossils from other members of the spinosaur family. What the recent scientific study of this dinosaur revealed, was a very different creature than we once thought!

Baryonyx was just one of Spinosaurus' relatives used to recreate what Spinosaurus actually looked like.
Up until 2013 and 2014, scientists were sure that, like its relatives such as Suchomimus and Baryonyx, Spinosaurus was a bipedal carnivore that terrorized the ancient North African swamps, eating anything from other dinosaurs, to fish, judging by the shape of its claws and teeth. It had a long, crocodile-like jaw, sharp claws on its hands and a row of tall dorsal spines that formed a sail in life. However, the recent discovery revealed that this dinosaur was much more bizarre than we initially believed.

The study re-confirmed what we already knew: that at 50-59 feet long and weighing 7-20 tons, Spinosaurus was the largest terrestrial predator of all time. But it also revealed several new things about this dinosaur. Starting at the head, Spinosaurus possessed nostrils located midway up the snout, rather than at the end like most other dinosaurs. CAT scans on this carnivore's skull revealed that it had nerve and blood channels running through its snout that could likely detect pressure changes in water. This dinosaur also had a long neck and tail. Its legs came as a complete surprise. Considering this dinosaur was an enormous predator, it is easy to assume that it stood upon two strong back legs like its relatives. That's not what Ibrahim and his team found out! The fossil legs of Spinosaurus were rather short, telling the scientists that it really couldn't have walked on its hind legs like other members of the spinosaur family because it was too top heavy. This was the first known quadrupedal (four-legged) dinosaur. But that's not the only thing the scientists noticed about its limbs. Dinosaur arm and leg bones – almost by definition – have a marrow cavity. In other words, they're hollow like the bones of modern birds. Upon closer inspection of Spinosaurus leg and arm bones however, Ibrahim and the other scientists studying the specimen realized that this dinosaur's bones were not hollow – they pretty much solid bone. The reason why most dinosaurs had hollow bones was so that they could have a strong and lightweight skeleton at the same time. Spinosaurus' skeleton was not lightweight, making it seem like this dinosaur wanted to be heavy. Now the scientists studying this animal's bones realized that virtually solid bones are known in animals today that have one thing in common: they're swimmers.

It turned out that the largest terrestrial predator was actually semi-aquatic!
All the evidence seems to point to Spinosaurus being a semi-aquatic dinosaur – the first known in the history of paleontology. Now other semi-aquatic dinosaurs have been proposed in the past, such as hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs, and long-necked sauropods, but these dinosaurs' bodies were not designed for a watery lifestyle. Spinosaurus was. It would have terrorized pre-Flood North African lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes and swamps. Here, it was pharaoh of its domain. Its long crocodile-like snout and meat-hook-like claws would have been used to snag fish, crocodiles and other aquatic animals in the water. It used its legs and long tail to help it move swiftly through the water. Its feet were broad, like many creatures that have webbed feet for swimming today, suggesting Spinosaurus also had webbed feet.
Paleontologists now believe Spinosaurus was a semi-aquatic, egg-laying reptile of, almost like Perry the Platypus! I wonder if there were any dinosaur secret agents in the past... (PHOTO CREDTS)
I'm sure by now you've noticed the seven-foot sail on Spinosaurus back. Ever since the days of Stromer, scientists have pondered over its use, and we still aren't sure. Theories abound, but it was only recently that scientists were able to use CAT scans to look inside the spines that make up Spinosaurus' sail. Thanks to CAT scans, we know several blood vessels ran through the spines. This makes some suggest that this dinosaur used its sail for temperature regulation, like the ears of an African elephant. Blood would have cooled faster in Spinosaurus' sail, meaning that after the blood flowed out of the sail and throughout the rest of the body, the body would cool as a result. Another theory is that it used the sail for display, perhaps to attract potential mates and scare off rival Spinosaurus, or even rival predators. Imagine how imposing a 50-foot animal swimming with a colorful sail sticking out of the water like a shark's fin would be.

Spinosaurus was far larger (in terms of mass and length) than any other theropod, including Carcharodontosaurus (left), Tyrannosaurus (center) and its relative Baryonyx (right). (PHOTO CREDITS)

Knowing that Spinosaurus was probably semi-aquatic also relieves scientists of a long-asked question: you see, North Africa featured several predators during days before the Genesis Flood that is described in the Bible. One of these predators was Carcharodontosaurus, a T. rex-sized carnosaur that lived in this region. Now if Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus ate the same types of food, they would have competed frequently for resources, as there were relatively few herbivorous dinosaurs to choose from. However, as Spinosaurus was primarily a fish-eater, it and Carcharodontosaurus would not have had to compete for food very often.
Carcharodontosaurus would have occasionally competed with Spinosaurus with food.
One of Spinosaurus prey items was a large fish called Onchopristis, a giant sawfish. Like modern sawfish, Onchopristis had a long snout edged with jagged, sharp teeth called denticles. As I have discussed before, we know Spinosaurus hunted this fish because we've found Onchopristis denticles embedded in Spinosaurus jawbones and we've found Spinosaurus teeth jammed in the bones of Onchopristis. This sawfish would have been a dangerous fish for Spinosaurus to catch, but this is why it bore sharp teeth and wicked claws.

This Spinosaurus is on the verge of catching a delicious Onchopristis.
Paleontology never ceases to fascinate me as a young dinosaur enthusiast. Just when we think we know everything about a particular dinosaur, a new fossil discovery comes along, takes what we knew about the dinosaur and turns it upside down. Spinosaurus is definitely one of those dinosaurs! From a terrestrial sail-backed cousin of Allosaurus, this dinosaur “evolved” into a ferocious, semi-aquatic, apex  predator of the water. It must have been an amazing dinosaur to see alive. 2015 is undoubtedly going to be full of new scientific discoveries that will continue to change our perception of these glorious creatures God created.

A pair of Spinosaurus catching fish in the river. (PHOTO CREDITS)

Disclaimer: Many (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via one or both of the email addresses above.

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