Spinosaurus (meaning “spine lizard”) is a genus of theropod dinosaur that lived in what now is North Africa, during the lower Albian to lower Cenomanian stages of the Cretaceous period, about 112 to 97 million years ago. This genus was known first from Egyptian remains discovered in 1912 and described by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer in 1915. The original remains were destroyed in World War II, but additional material has come to light in recent years. It is unclear whether one or two species are represented in the fossils reported in the scientific literature. The best known species is S. aegyptiacus from Egypt, although a potential second species, S. maroccanus, has been recovered from Morocco.
Spinosaurus was among the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs, possibly larger than Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus. Estimates published in 2005, 2007, and 2008 suggested that it was between 12.6–18 metres (41–59 ft) in length and 7 to 20.9 tonnes (7.7 to 23.0 short tons) in weight. A new estimate published in 2014 and based on a more complete specimen, supported the earlier research, finding that Spinosaurus could reach lengths greater than 15 m (49 ft). The skull of Spinosaurus was long and narrow, similar to that of a modern crocodilian. Spinosaurus is known to have eaten fish, and most scientists believe that it hunted both terrestrial and aquatic prey; evidence suggests that it lived both on land and in water as a modern crocodilian does. The distinctive spines of Spinosaurus, which were long extensions of the vertebrae, grew to at least 1.65 meters (5.4 ft) long and were likely to have had skin connecting them, forming a sail-like structure, although some authors have suggested that the spines were covered in fat and formed a hump. Multiple functions have been put forward for this structure, including thermoregulation and display.
Function of the sail
There has been much scientific debate regarding the evolution and purpose of Spinosaurus‘ sail. Because of its size, this dinosaur did not have many predators, but the sail could have been used to ward off enemies, as the dinosaur would have appeared to be twice its size with the sail fully extended. The dinosaur’s upper spine was fairly flexible, and its vertebrae had ball-and-socket joints, meaning it was likely able to arch its back to a point. It may have been able to spread the sail when threatened or looking to attract a mate.
Size of Spinosaurus
The lifestyle of Spinosaurus
Very tall neural spines growing on the back vertebrae of Spinosaurus formed the basis of what is usually called the animal’s “sail”. The lengths of the neural spines reached over 10 times the diameters of the vertebral bodies from which they extended. The neural spines were slightly longer front to back at the base than higher up, and were unlike the thin rods seen in the pelycosaur finbacks Edaphosaurus and Dimetrodon, contrasting also with the thicker spines in the iguanodontian Ouranosaurus.
Spinosaurus sails were unusual, although other dinosaurs, namely the ornithopod Ouranosaurus, which lived a few million years earlier in the same general region as Spinosaurus, and the South American sauropod Amargasaurus, might have developed similar structural adaptations of their vertebrae. The sail may be an analog of the sail of the Permian synapsid Dimetrodon, which lived before the dinosaurs even appeared, produced by convergent evolution.
Spinosaurus gives its name to the Spinosauridae family of dinosaurs, which includes two subfamilies: Baryonychinae and Spinosaurinae. The Baryonychinae include Baryonyx from southern England and Suchomimus from Niger in central Africa. The Spinosaurinae include Spinosaurus, Irritator from Brazil, and Angaturama (which is probably synonymous with Irritator) from Brazil. The Spinosaurinae share unserrated straight teeth that are widely spaced (e.g., 12 on one side of the maxilla), as opposed to the Baryonychinae which have serrated curved teeth that are numerous (e.g., 30 on one side of the maxilla)
The skull had a narrow snout filled with straight conical teeth that lacked serrations. There were six or seven teeth on each side of the very front of the upper jaw, in the premaxillae, and another twelve in both maxillae behind them. The second and third teeth on each side were noticeably larger than the rest of the teeth in the premaxilla, creating a space between them and the large teeth in the anterior maxilla; large teeth in the lower jaw faced this space. The very tip of the snout holding those few large anterior teeth was expanded, and a small crest was present in front of the eyes. Using the dimensions of three specimens known as MSNM V4047, UCPC-2, and BSP 1912 VIII 19, and assuming that the postorbital part of the skull of MSNM V4047 had a shape similar to the postorbital part of the skull of Irritator, Dal Sasso et al. (2005) estimated that the skull of Spinosaurus was 1.75 meters (5.7 ft) long. The Dal Sasso et al. skull length estimate was questioned because skull shapes can vary across spinosaurid species.
A 2013 made study performed by scientists Andrew R. Cuff and Emily Rayfield showed that Spinosaurids like Spinosaurus had relatively poor resistance in their skulls for torsion compared to other members of this group (Baryonyx) and modern alligators, thus showing Spinosaurus preyed more regularly on fish than it did on land animals, although considered predators of the former too.