Since its discovery in 1915, the giant dinosaur Spinosaurus has puzzled palaeontologists worldwide, with scientists last year suggesting it was an aquatic predator that used its large tail to swim and actively pursue fish in the water.
New research from the University of Maryland and Queen Mary University of London reignites the debate, arguing in a study published today in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica that Spinosaurus was more like a giant, flightless heron or stork than an agile underwater hunter. It likely snatched at fish from the shoreline and hunted other small available prey on land or in water, the researchers say.
Spinosaurus lived in the late Cretaceous period, from 99 to 93 million years ago. At 40 to 60 feet long, it was among the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs, and its distinctive vertebrae suggest it had a large sail-like feature on its back.
The researchers compared the features of Spinosaurus with the skulls and skeletons of other dinosaurs and various living and extinct reptiles that inhabited land, water or both. They found several pieces of evidence that contradicted the aquatic pursuit predator concept but none contradicting the wading heronlike model.
“Spinosaurus was a bizarre animal, even by dinosaur standards, and unlike anything alive today,” said Thomas Holtz, a principal lecturer in UMD’s Department of Geology and co-author of the paper. “Trying to understand its ecology will always be difficult. We sought to use what evidence we have to best approximate its way of life. And what we found did not match the attributes one would expect in an aquatic pursuit predator in the manner of an otter, sea lion, or short-necked plesiosaur.”
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