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Spinosaurus Makes History As First Known Swimming Dinosaur

by : Lucy Connolly on : 30 Apr 2020 19:12

As much as we know about dinosaurs – and it seems to be a lot – there’s always been one question at the back of scientists’ minds: could they really not swim?

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Well, now it seems we might finally have the answer to that question, and it’s different than what we might have expected. That’s right folks, scientists have finally found irrefutable evidence that the longest predatory dinosaur ever known was aquatic.

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a 50-foot-long, seven-ton predator that had a large sail on its back and an elongated snout that resembled that of a crocodile, apparently also had a ‘a large, flexible fin-like’ tail.

It’s this tail that sets it apart from its fellow dinosaurs, and which apparently enabled the Spinosaurus to swim and hunt in rivers millions of years ago.

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An international team of researchers, led by National Geographic Explorer and University of Detroit Mercy professor Dr. Nizar Ibrahim, carried out an investigation of the world’s only existing Spinosaurus skeleton.

The findings, published yesterday, April 29, in the journal Nature and later in the National Geographic, are based on this investigation of the skeleton, which was found in the Kem Kem region of the Moroccan Sahara and is the most complete one to date for a Cretaceous predatory dinosaur from mainland Africa.

dinosaurs swimdinosaurs swimDavide Bonadonna

Led by Dr. Ibrahim, the team of researchers returned to a site where parts of a Spinosaurus skeleton had first been uncovered in 2008. Between 2015 and 2019, the team recovered many more fossils of the skeleton, including a complete, fin-like tail.

Up until that moment, the partial skeleton provided little to no evidence of the Spinosaurus being aquatic, and so suggestions that it was were met with opposition. Once the team started examining the tail though, they realised what they thought they knew about the dinosaur was all wrong.

They discovered that the tail actually resembled an oar, with delicate two-foot-long struts jutting from the vertebrae. Not only that, but near the end of the tail the bony bumps that allow vertebrae to interlock almost disappeared.

This told the team all they needed to know; without the bumps, the tip of the tail could move back and forth in a way that would propel the animal through water.

The skeleton of a 'Spinosaurus'The skeleton of a 'Spinosaurus'PA Images
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Dr. Ibrahim said in a statement:

This discovery really opens our eyes to this whole new world of possibilities for dinosaurs. It doesn’t just add to an existing narrative, it starts a whole new narrative and drastically changes things in terms of what we know dinosaurs could actually do.

There’s nothing like this animal in over 220 million years of dinosaur evolution, which is pretty remarkable. This discovery is the nail in the coffin for the idea that non-avian dinosaurs never invaded the aquatic realm.

This dinosaur was actively pursuing prey in the water column, not just standing in shallow waters waiting for fish to swim by. It probably spent most of its life in the water.

The skeleton of a 'Spinosaurus'The skeleton of a 'Spinosaurus'PA Images

Other scientists, who weren’t involved with the study but who have evaluated it, are in agreement that the tail puts any doubts about a semiaquatic Spinosaurus to rest, with University of Maryland paleontologist Tom Holtz saying: ‘This is certainly a bit of a surprise. Spinosaurus is even weirder than we thought it was.’

Well, there you have it. Turns out some dinosaurs really could swim. Who knew?

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Animals, dinosaurs, Nature, Science, Spinosaurus

Credits

Nature and 2 others
  1. Nature

    Tail-propelled aquatic locomotion in a theropod dinosaur

  2. National Geographic

    Bizarre Spinosaurus makes history as first known swimming dinosaur

  3. University of Detroit Mercy

    New fossils rewrite the story of dinosaur evolution and ecology — and change the appearance of Spinosaurus