*Previously on: Max’s Blogosaurus*
“Last time I wrote about Spinosaurus, I said I’d be writing about it again in a year or two; it turned out to be a little over three months. Way to jinx myself, right? Well, I’ll do it again and say my next Spinosaur article will come out in six months. Having said this, I won’t be surprised if it ends up being three days” (Maximillian Mataija, 30 September 2020)
Welcome to Max’s blogosaurus, the website unofficially dedicated to Spinosaurus!
My prediction of a six-month Spinosaurus hiatus wasn’t too far off after all. About 5 months ago, I wrote an article that discussed the discovery of a Mesozoic riverbed which contained an unusually high abundance of Spinosaurus teeth. The high ratio of Spinosaurus teeth present seemed to confirm the theory that Spinosaurus was an amphibious super-predator well adapted to an aquatic lifestyle(1). Plenty of physical evidence has emerged to support this theory, including conical teeth designed for catching fish, short limbs incapable of fast movement on land, and a powerful and robust tail that would have propelled Spinosaurus through currents with ease(2). The combination of these traits seemed to set in stone that Spinosaurus was in fact the first fully-aquatic dinosaur, a true “dino-croc” if you will.
Yet here I am, writing once again about Spinosaurus. So what gives?
A new study published on January 26th dispels the notion of a fully aquatic Spinosaurus, instead proposing that it was a semi-aquatic ambush predator. The researchers propose that Spinosaurus would have waded along the shores of ancient riverbeds, dipping its head in to catch unsuspecting prey(3). A leading factor in this assertion is the anatomy of Spinosaurus’ neck and skull. The authors note that the S-shaped structure of the neck is similar to that of ambush predators, like Heron, instead of more active predators(4), and that the positioning of the nostrils on Spinosaurus’ skull would have allowed it to breathe while dipping it’s snout into the water for prey(4). Additionally, the study argues that the tail may not have been that effective after all, instead being used as a sexual display(4).
Fine, just trash my last two articles then. I am really happy about that.
I am disinclined to like this study because it undermines the mythos of Spinosaurus. Part of what makes Spinosaurus so peculiar is that it is the most highly adapted member of the Spinosaurid family. While earlier members, such as Baryonyx or Suchomimus, stuck to the shores and bobbed their heads in to catch fish, Spinosaurus took the leap into almost fully-aquatic life. By reducing its behaviors to that of its ancestors, it takes away what makes Spinosaurus such a unique and encaptivating dinosaur.
Having said this, I will admit that there is validity within this argument. The neck of Spinosaurus would have made catching fish underwater awkward, and its massive size would have made swimming a very laborious task. This does not mean that Spinosaurus would have exclusively stuck to shorelines, however. I propose that Spinosaurus would have alternated between active aquatic hunting and shoreline ambush as needed. Modern day carnivores don’t restrict themselves to just one method of hunting; instead, they adapt to the situation around them, a fact that is sometimes ignored by paleontologists. There is no reason why Spinosaurus could not have both ambushed prey on the shores and chased after prey in open waters; instead, it likely did both, depending on the abundance of prey and the seasonal tides of its habitat.
I am not the only one who is disappointed by this new development, however; the true people suffering are the poor Paleoartists who have had to redraw Spinosaurus three times in less than a year. To those poor artists, I advise you not to draw a new rendition of Spinosaurus quite yet. Give it a few months until a counter paper is proposed with another new rendition of Spinosaurus, then give it a whirl.
I do not take credit for any image found in this article.
Header image “Bahariya” courtesy of John Conway, whose work can be found here
Swimming Spinosaurus courtesy of Deni Brej, whose artwork can be found here
Spinosaurus in its habitat illustrated by Mark Winton, found at his blog here
The meme courtesy of myself.
- Greshko, Michael. “Case for ‘River Monster’ Spinosaurus Strengthened by New Fossil Teeth.” Science, National Geographic, 23 Sept. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/case-for-river-monster-spinosaurus-strengthened-by-new-fossil-teeth/.
- Treat, Jason, and Mesa Schumacher. “Reconstructing a Gigantic Aquatic Predator.” Science, National Geographic, 29 Apr. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/spinosaurus-graphic-reconstructing-gigantic-aquatic-predator/.
- Hone, David, and Thomas Holtz. “Evaluating the Ecology of Spinosaurus: Shoreline Generalist or Aquatic Pursuit Specialist?” Palaeontologia Electronica, 26 Jan. 2021, doi:10.26879/1110.
- Greshko, Michael. “Did the ‘River Monster’ Spinosaurus Hunt like a Stork?” Science, National Geographic, 26 Jan. 2021, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2021/01/did-the-river-monster-spinosaurus-hunt-like-a-stork/.