Spinosaurus lived 112 to 94 million years ago in Northern Africa. Reaching over 50 feet in length, this dinosaur rivaled the size of Tyrannosaurus and Gigantosaurus. It was carnivorous, and the fossil record shows that while fish comprised a large part of the diet of a Spinosaurus, it was adept on both land and water and probably hunted for small animals in both environments, like their modern-day descendents, crocodiles and alligators.
The fossil remains of Spinosaurus were first found in Egypt in 1912 by Richard Markgraf. This specimen was named Spinosaurus aegyptiacus by Ernst Stromer, a German paleontologist, meaning “Egyptian spiny lizard”. This original discovery no longer exists, however, as it was destroyed in World War II when the museum it was being kept in in Munich was bombed in a British air raid. A second specimen was found in 1996 by Dale Russell. He found the second fossil remains in Morocco, and named them Spinosaurus maroccanus. Since there isn’t a Spinosaurus aegyptiacus on hand to compare it to, scientists have debated the uniqueness of Russell’s species based on the records of Markgraf’s find. The length of the spine on the first vertebrae is markedly different, and this has indicated to some that Spinosaurus maroccanus is a different species of Spinosaurus, although many believe that the length of the spines varies on animal to animal. The latter is in the majority right now and Russell’s species is used dubiously as a secondary name for Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.
Another area of debate are the purpose of the spines which extend from Spinosaurus’ vertebrae. They are usually over a yard long and probably were connected with flaps of skin. Some contend, though, that they were actually covered by a hump of muscle. There are three major theories in the scientific community. These theories are: thermoregulation, attractiveness, or intimidation.
Thermoregulation could be achieved using a sail in a handful of different ways. The first is that if the sail was abundant in blood vessels, it could radiate heat away from the body, which would be useful in a warm Northern African climate. Another way that the Spinosaurus could thermoregulate is through collecting heat for use during the night, supposing that they were mostly cold-blooded and the nights got cold enough that the extra heat would benefit them. Further, the sail could aid in cooling the Spinosaurus during the day if angled towards the wind.
The sail could also have been used for display in courtship, like the impressive tail feathers on many birds. These two theories are not mutually exclusive; there could have been a practical use that the opposite sex also found attractive.
Those who think that the spines actually were covered in muscle think that it worked sort of like how a camel’s hump works. The storage of fat was used as a reserve of energy and heat during cold periods or during the night.
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