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Spinosaurus – The Largest Land Carnivore of All Time?
T. rex versus Spinosaurus – Giant Killers
Scientists’ knowledge of dinosaurs has greatly improved in the last decade or so. New fossil discoveries together with new research techniques have enabled paleontologists to learn more about these animals. When we visit schools or work in museums our staff are bombarded with questions and one of the most popular is – which is the biggest, meat-eating dinosaur of them all? To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer, but among the candidates would be Spinosaurus (Spinosaurus aegyptiacus), a strange, ship-supported dinosaur that could have reached lengths of more than 18 meters.
Spinosaurus featured in the first episode of the BBC television series “Dinosaur Planet”. This episode is entitled “The Lost World” and focuses on dinosaur discoveries from North Africa. This part of the world around ninety-five million years ago was home to many large prehistoric animals, large crocodiles, large sauropods and at least two large carnivores. The carnivores in question are Carcharodontosaurus and perhaps the biggest carnivore of them all – Spinosaurus.
A story of tape
As two heavyweight boxing contenders, let’s take a brief look at what we know about Spinosaurus in comparison to T. rex.
T. rex – length = 13-14 meters, weight 5.5 to 7 tons, skull size 1.75 meters
Spinosaurus – length 12-18 meters, weight 4 to 20 tons, skull size 2 meters
Based on these statistics, it seems that Spinosaurus is the largest animal, but we have to consider the actual fossil evidence, when we make a more confusing picture emerges.
There are something like thirty T. rex fossil specimens known, with at least half a dozen or so individual skeletons with less than 40% of the fossil material complete, including skull material. However, for Spinosaurus the fossil record is not very complete. Only six examples have been found to date. Most of what palaeontologists know about Spinosaurus comes from this small specimen and by picking up fossil bones from related genera such as Suchomimus, Baronyx and Irritator.
The most complete Spinosaurus fossils found to date were discovered by a German expedition to the western desert of Egypt. This expedition was led by Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach, who may be as famous today as the likes of Cope and Marsh. However, Stromer is plagued by misfortune and the story of Spinosaurus is one of lost opportunities and mistakes.
The Discovery of Spinosaurus
In November 1911, Stromer’s team set sail for Egypt, on the quest not to find dinosaurs but to find evidence of early hominids. Stromer believed (exactly as he changed), that mankind originated in Africa. At the beginning of the 20th Century there were two different theories about the origins of our species. Some scientists agree H. sapiens is in Europe, while other scientists, including Stromer, believe that humanity originated in Africa. Stromer’s team explored several areas before moving to the Bahariya Oasis in western Egypt, what they thought would be older Eocene deposits, a potential location for primate fossils. The team discovered the remains of several new types of dinosaur including two large predators – Carcharodontosaurus and perhaps the most famous of all Spinosaurus.
The rest is a fragment, part of the lower jaw, some vertebrae, and of course those huge neural spines, the largest of which is about six feet in height. It is these spines that gave this dinosaur its name, the spines are believed to have supported the large ship-like structure on the animal’s back. What this mechanism is used for (thermoregulation, fat storage, visual signaling) is unclear. However, Stromer knew he had some large, fossilized bones to contend with.
He was surprised by the size and scope of the designs the tour collected, he said. “… I don’t know how to take care of such gigantic species”. The team ended up mixing flour and water to make a paste and cut strips of cloth which they soaked in this mixture and put on the fossils to make a kind of protective jacket for their discovery.
Getting the fossils back to Germany is very difficult. Egypt was under British control and on the eve of the First World War, diplomatic relations between Britain and Germany were strained. One box may leave the country, but the rest remains in Egypt until the war is over. They did not finally return to Stromer until 1922.
Spinosaurus (Spinosaurus aegyptiacus) was named and scientifically named by Stromer in 1915. Stromer thought that the Egyptian dinosaur was at least as large as Tyrannosaurus rex, which was named nine years earlier.
Unfortunately, the boxes that were returned to Germany in 1922 contained damaged fossils. Many examples were in a bad way and Stromer set about spending the next decade or so fixing them and building them. More descriptions, pictures and even some pictures of Spinosaurus fossils were made, but in the 1930s Stromer fell out of favor with the Nazi Party and had greater and greater difficulty in getting his work out.
April 24th/April 25th 1944 – Fossils Destroyed
Stromer has petitioned authorities to remove his Spinosaurus fossil and other specimens from the Munich museum where they were stored for most of World War II. As Allied bombing raids became more frequent Stromer urged the authorities to have the samples moved to a secure storage area such as a coal mine or other underground facility. His pleas went unheeded and his luck finally ran out on the evening of April 24th, the morning of April 25th, 1944 when a British night bombing raid effectively destroyed the museum and the surrounding area. Stromer’s life’s work was all but destroyed, including the Spinosaurus fossils. His holotype specimen is not around and is therefore not available for study. Only a few interesting photographs of Stromer’s Spinosaurus fossils remain.
Morocco – New Discovery
A number of other, fragmentary Spinosaurus fossils have been found since Stromer. Not in Egypt but in Morocco, this has led scientists to describe the second most powerful species of Spinosaurus. Canadian archaeologist Dale Russell has studied Moroccan fossils, some of which were provided by an Italian museum that had originally acquired the specimen from a private collection. Although, still very classified, scientists have named and described the second species of Spinosaurus – Spinosaurus maroccansusalthough this second species is not fully accepted by the scientific community as a separate species.
In terms of confirming the size of Spinosaurus, based on the fossil evidence and on the holotype from the Bahariya Oasis of Egypt, we can say that this Theropod was very large, whether or not it was the largest land carnivore that ever existed. follow up. is more difficult to say. Further research and more complete fossil specimens are needed.
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