If someone were to ask you "what's the most intimidating creature, dead or alive, you can think of," it's unlikely that either a duck or a crocodile would make the list. You wouldn't think a crocodile/duck hybrid, a crockiduck, would either, but let's topple that notion right over, shall we? It has been revealed that 95 million years ago, northern Africa was inhabited by what might be the largest predatory dinosaur — even larger than the T. Rex — to ever roam the Earth: the Spinosaurus aegyptiacus (otherwise known merely as the spinosaurus). This monstrously large beast spanned over 50-feet long, with its tail alone out-measuring a fully grown adult male, had vicious jaws; spike-like sails that extended all the way down its spine; and, rather unexpectedly, it had a penchant for water.
The existence of the Spinosaurus has been known for many years, but only now have researchers shed some much-needed light on this ancient-Earth creature. Earlier this week, University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno remarked that this is "the first water-adapted non-avian dinosaur on record,"a conclusion researchers drew after successfully combining hundred year old data with new information. Sereno went on to say that the beast was a "chimera — half duck, half crocodile" (you decide which sounds better: a Duckodile or a crociduck? We're going with the latter option).
Some of the water-bound characteristics outlined by the team include a crocodile-like "nose opening far back on the skull" (a quirk that aided the creature in breathing when its head was partially submerged underwater); a thin jaw, with cone-shaped teeth (used to hunt slimy, aquatic prey); and leg and hip bones that more-closely resemble distant ancestors of the modern-day whale than other known Spinosaurus species. The slight distinction in the subspecies' bone structure is very important though, as it's believed that, for buoyant aquatic creatures, dense and compact bones are a must. "This is something we’ve seen in animals that return to the sea," said Nizar Ibrahim, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Chicago (and the lead researcher).
The First Unlikely Find:
The first discovery was made in 1915 by a German paleontologist by the name of Ernst Stromer. On a fateful day almost 100 years ago, Stromer stumbled upon the remarkably large and well-preserved fossils of what we now know as the spinosaurus. Some of you might be wondering why it took so long to identify the dinosaur's species given the amount of time that has passed since the original expedition.
I'm afraid the fossils were yet another casualty of the second world war. In 1944, about 30 years after they were found, they — along with the building they were stored in, the Munich State Palaeontology Museum — were unintentionally destroyed in a bomb explosion at the hands of allied forces. Needless to say, it was an immeasurably large setback, but before all hope was lost, something remarkable happened.
Ibrahim, the study's author, became acquainted with a fossil collector from Morocco. He presented Ibrahim with a box containing sediment-covered fossils. While picking through the collection prior to buying it, one specific bone piqued his interest. He didn't know it at the time, but he had just encountered fossils that were believed to be permanently lost to science, a spinosaurus (its spine, in particular). This same collector took Ibrahim and his team to the location he found it in — a region hidden away in the Moroccan Sahara —resulting in the discovery of various vertebrae, teeth, and jaw pieces from a Spinosaurus.
Biological Puzzle Pieces:
With a lot of science and a little luck, "Workers grinded the rough edges off an anatomically precise, life-size Spinosaurus skeleton created from digital data" (along with a few images taken before the complete fossil was destroyed. "Scientists then assembled a computer model from CT scans of fossils, images of lost bones, and extrapolations from related creatures, then expressed it in polystyrene, resin, and steel." The also created an impressive 3D model.
Now, they hope the 3D renderings will aid in understanding how the creature maneuvered on water and on land; and perhaps more about its diet. . Regardless, Sereno finished by saying "it would’ve been a fearsome animal. There is no question about it. You would not want to meet this animal."
WATCH: Spinosaurus Killing Style
See the full paper here.