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Spinosaurus – The Largest Land Carnivore of All Time?
T. rex vs Spinosaurus – Giant killers
Scientists’ knowledge of dinosaurs has improved greatly over the past decade or so. New fossil finds along with new research techniques have enabled paleontologists to learn a lot about these reptiles. When we visit schools or work in museums, our staff are bombarded with questions and one of the most popular is – what is the biggest meat-eating dinosaur of all? To be fair, this is a difficult question to answer, but among the contenders would be Spinosaurus (Spinosaurus aegyptiacus), a strange sailing dinosaur that may have reached a length of more than 18 meters.
Spinosaurus appeared in the first episode of the BBC television series Dinosaur Planet. This episode was titled “The Lost World” and focused on dinosaur discoveries from North Africa. This part of the world some ninety-five million years ago was home to a variety of large prehistoric animals, giant crocodiles, large sauropods and at least two large carnivores. The carnivores in question are Carcharodontosaurus and perhaps the biggest carnivore of all – Spinosaurus.
A tape tale
Like two heavyweight boxing contenders, let’s briefly look at what we know about Spinosaurus compared 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 do a more confusing picture emerges.
About thirty T. rex fossil specimens are known, with at least half a dozen or more individual skeletons containing at least 40% of the complete fossil material, including cranial material. However, for Spinosaurus the fossil record is much less complete. Only six specimens have been found to date. Most of what paleontologists know about Spinosaurus comes from this scarce material and scaling fossil bones from similar genera such as Suchomimus, Baronyx, and Irritator.
The most complete Spinosaurus fossils found to date were discovered by a German-led expedition in the Western Egyptian desert. This expedition was led by Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach, who should probably be as famous today as Cope and Marsh. However, Stromer was struck by disaster, and the story of Spinosaurus is one of missed opportunities and mistakes.
Discovery of Spinosaurus
In November 1911, Stromer’s party set out for Egypt, on a quest not to find dinosaurs, but to find evidence of early hominids. Stromer believed (rightly as it turned out), that humanity originated in Africa. At the beginning of the 20th century there were two opposing theories about the origin of our species. Some scientists believed that H. sapiens evolved in Europe, while other scientists, including Stromer, believed that humanity originated in Africa. Stromer’s party explored a number of areas before visiting the Bahariya Oasis in western Egypt, what they thought would be older Eocene deposits, a potential site for primate fossils. The team discovered the remains of several new dinosaur species including two large predators – Carcharodontosaurus and perhaps the most famous of all Spinosaurus.
The remains were fragmentary, part of the lower jaw, a few vertebrae, plus of course those huge neural spines, the largest of which was nearly six feet tall. It is these spines that give this dinosaur its name, the spines are believed to have supported a large sail-like structure on the animal’s back. What this device was used for (thermoregulation, fat storage, visual signaling) remains unclear. Still, Stromer was aware that he had some big, fossilized bones to contend with.
He was surprised by the size and scale of the specimens the expedition collected, he was quoted as saying “… I don’t know how to save such giant species”. The team ended up mixing flour and water to make a paste and tore up strips of cloth which they then soaked in this mixture and applied to the fossils to make a sort of protective jacket for their findings.
Bringing the fossils back to Germany was very difficult. Egypt was under British control and on the eve of World War I, diplomatic relations between Britain and Germany were strained. One chest was able to leave the country, but the remainder remained in Egypt until after the war was over. They did not finally return to Stromer until 1922.
Spinosaurus (Spinosaurus aegyptiacus) was officially named and scientifically described by Stromer in 1915. Stromer thought this Egyptian dinosaur was at least as large as Tyrannosaurus rex, which had been named just nine years earlier.
Unfortunately, the crates that were returned to Germany in 1922 contained fossils that had been damaged. Many of the specimens were in bad shape, and Stromer spent the next decade repairing and studying them. More descriptions, drawings, and even some photographs of Spinosaurus fossils were made, but by the 1930s Stromer had fallen out of favor with the Nazi Party and had increasing difficulty getting his work published.
April 24 / April 25, 1944 – Destroyed Fossils
Stromer had pleaded with the authorities to remove his Spinosaurus fossil material and other specimens from the Munich museum, where they had been stored for most of World War II. As Allied bombing raids became more frequent, Stromer asked the authorities to let him transport the specimens to a safe storage area, such as in a coal mine or other underground facility. His pleas went unheeded and his luck finally ran out on the evening of April 24, the morning of April 25, 1944 when a British night bombing raid effectively leveled the museum and the surrounding area. Stromer’s life’s work was completely destroyed, including the Spinosaurus fossils. Its holotype specimen is no longer around and is not available for study. Only a few fascinating photographs of Stromer’s Spinosaurus fossils remain.
Morocco – New discoveries
A number of other fragmentary Spinosaurus fossils have been found since Stromer’s time. Not in Egypt, but in Morocco, this has led scientists to describe a possible second species of Spinosaurus. Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell has been studying Moroccan fossil material, some of which was obtained from an Italian museum, which had originally received the specimen from a private individual’s collection. Although, still very fragmentary, scientists have named and described a 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 that remains and the holotype from the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt, we can say that this theropod was very large, whether or not it is the largest land carnivore that ever existed. sometimes. it’s harder to say. Further research and more complete fossil specimens are needed.
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