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SPY - noh - SAW - rus

Alain Beneteau. Copyright 2006

Field Notes

Name Means: "Spiny lizard"
Length: 60 feet (20 m)
Diet: Carnivore (Meat-Eater)
Time: Late Cretaceous
Location: North Africa (Egypt, Niger)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the German paleontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, of the University of Munich, began a series of expeditions to Egypt, where he discovered, in the western Sahara, the remains of several formerly unknown late Cretaceous dinosaurs. The most significant of these finds was Spinosaurus. It was so named because of the tall spines on its vertebrae. Stromer collected some fragmentary remains of Spinosaurus in 1912 and described the dinosaur in 1914.

Unfortunately, the 20th century has been unkind to this dinosaur. Stromer's specimen of Spinosaurus, as well as those of several other Egyptian dinosaurs he described, were destroyed in bombing raids during World War II, and much of the important information concerning specific localities was lost during both the world wars. Fortunately for science, however, Stromer published an extensive and meticulously detailed description of the material he collected.

In many ways, Spinosaurus resembled a number of other theropods, such as Allosaurus. Unlike other spinosaurids, however, it had neural spines on its vertebrae. What set Spinosaurus apart was the great size of these spines, which rose more than 5 feet (1.5 m) high and formed a "sail" over the back, much like that of the Permian mammal relative Dimetrodon.

We now suspect that these spines were connected by skin, but we have no clear idea of how the sail functioned. It could have helped Spinosaurus to radiate or absorb heat and thus regulate its body temperature. It may also have served as a social signaling device or as a means of sexual display.

Like other spinosaurids, Spinosaurus had a long, slender snout. Its teeth, which in many ways resembled those of present-day crocodiles, were unlike those of most theropods. They were conical and straight, rather than curved, and the serrations were very fine.

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