Dinosaur fossils uncovered in the Sahara desert reveal that Spinosaurus was not only a land-going dinosaur but was also semi-aquatic, making it the first swimming dinosaur known to man, says Science. Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a four-legged reptile with a large membranous “sail” on its back, was already known to paleontologists. However, this new research reveals that it was the only dinosaur that could swim and even thrive in the water. In fact, the findings indicate that it had some trouble walking on land.
While scientists have long known about plenty of other aquatic reptiles, and while some dinosaurs are believed to have eaten fish, this is the first proof that a species of dinosaur could swim and that it was adapted to spend extensive time in aquatic environments. Spinosaurus‘ nostrils were located farther back on its snout to avoid the inhalation of water, and its legs were designed against buoyancy (like those of penguins). Snout openings present on the dinosaur can still be found today in modern crocodiles and alligators, a feature that aides them in detecting movement in the water. Its teeth were cone-shaped and would have been well-designed for eating fish.
The teeth were a clue before the discovery that Spinosaurus was designed for aquatic life. Scientists from China found chemical evidence of a diet suited to marine life. The anatomy of the dinosaur also led some to speculate that it was not merely land-based.
Science stated that the find, which took place in Morocco, revealed a swimming Spinosaurus that was longer than the strictly land-based T-rex by nearly 10 feet, making it the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever discovered. “We’ve resurrected a giant from deep time,” stated paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim from the University of Chicago. He said Spinosaurus is “the most enigmatic dinosaur” yet.
Spinosaurus was first discovered more than 100 years ago by Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, a German paleontologist. The fossils were lost in a World War II bombing of the museum in Munich that housed them. After the destruction of the specimen, no other large Spinosaurus skeleton was available for study.
Ibrahim found several fossils in the Saharan Kem Kem beds thanks to a fossil collector, where he uncovered bits of the Spinosaurus. Also present in the bed were the remains of other aquatic creatures, including sharks–appropriate, as the Spinosaurus’ diet included ancient sharks. The site of the Sahara was once the place of a system of rivers, the kind of place Spinosaurus might have called home.
In Milan, other researchers had previously collected Spinosaurus fossils from the same bed. With combined efforts, a replica of Spinosaurus could be built. “It was going to be bigger and badder,” Ibrahim said of the new model. A to-scale representation of the Spinosaurus skeleton will be available for public viewing in Washington DC at the National Geographic Museum. Free tours of the Spinosaurus exhibit are to be offered twice daily after admission.
Thanks to the find, paleontologists now have evidence that Spinosaurus was a swimmer, making this a unique and important discovery in dinosaur studies. It currently has the status of the only known semi-aquatic dinosaur.
By Jillian Moyet