Saturday, October 04, 2014

Big dinos! Spinosaurus and Dreadnaughtus.

When I first saw an image of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus sometime way back when I was a kid crazy about dinosaurs--the image had no caption indicating the species--I thought it was someone's silly conflation of a Jurassic or Cretaceous theropod with a Permian era sail-backed synapsid like Dimetrodon.  I later learned that it was a real dinosaur, that its fossils had been found in Egypt, but that the only known fossil remains had been destroyed in a bombing raid on Munich during World War II.

Thanks to a nomad in Morocco, who found fossil bones that came to the attention of paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim, a post-doc at the University of Chicago, paleontologists there were able to create a reconstruction of Spinosaurus that strongly indicates that, like a present day crocodile (or duck), it had a semi-aquatic life. It was larger than any other known carnivorous dinosaur, including Giganotosaurus. Indeed, it was likely piscivorous, dining on the large fish that swam in the shallow waters of the coastal region that was North Africa in the Cretaceous.

My last post on dinos was about the smallest dinosaur yet discovered, Ashdown maniraptora. Now there's a new biggest, discovered in Argentina, which now vies with China as the richest source of new dinosaur discoveries. It is, of course, a sauropod, one of those immense, long-necked, long-tailed, big-bodied herbivores we boomers knew in our childhood as Brontosaurus, but later learned was properly named Apatosaurus (the story of how this happened is here).

  This was sad news for the Piltdown Men, who took their name from what may have been the greatest paleontological hoax ever.

As we boomers grew older, we learned of other sauropods, like long, slender Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus, with its towering neck. In recent years a large number of new sauropod species have been found in places like Brazil and Utah. Now, the biggest yet has been found in Argentina, weighing 65 tons, more than twice the weight of Brachiosaurus; indeed, more than an empty Boeing 737. It's been given what I think is a very appropriate name: Dreadnaughtus.

I haven't included an image of Dreadnaughtus because Anne Elk (see clip above) has explained what all sauropods look like. If you still need help, there's a picture of one on the wall behind.

Addendum: I neglected to credit the Spinosaurus image to "Barry's Dinosaur Info" in Dinotopia. "Barry's", in turn, credits the image to Arthur Weasley. Perhaps the same vein, I learned through "Barry's" of a dinosaur called Dracorex hogwartsia.