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Meet the Spinosaurus – the largest carnivorous dinosaur in history (bigger than a T-Rex!)

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key point:
  • Spinosaurus was the largest carnivore that ever lived, measuring 50 feet long and weighing 7.5 tons.
  • The first Spinosaurus was discovered during a paleontological dig in western Egypt between 1910 and 1914.
  • Researchers believe that Spinosaurus had aquatic adaptations because of features such as webbed feet, and the large spine on the back of Spinosaurus that could be used as a sail or dorsal fin.

Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the most terrifying creatures in prehistoric times. It's so horrific and violent that it's become a fixed icon in society's imagination. It even achieved Hollywood star status through the Jurassic Park film franchise. As terrifying as this land-dwelling dinosaur was, can you imagine if such a beast could move between land and water—perhaps a special "River Rex"—making it the largest carnivore ever? Well, it just so happens that scientists have unearthed just such a creature. However, this T. rex was even more menacing and bigger than the infamous T. rex: meet Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur in history.

What is a Spinosaurus?

Meet Spinosaurus - the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever - bigger than T-Rex 1
Spinosaurus was the largest carnivorous dinosaur in history.

© AZ-Animals.com

Spinosaurus was a huge carnivorous dinosaur that lived on the earth in the late Cretaceous period, at least 93.5-99 million years ago. Its name Spinosaurus means "spine lizard". This refers to the large, spiny, fin-like sails on its back that are at least 6 feet high. Spinosaurus was the largest carnivore that ever lived that we know of. The giant dinosaur was 50 feet long and weighed 7.5 tons, which means it surpassed even the largest carnivorous dinosaurs in size. It was bigger than Giganotosaurus and the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex! The narrow six-foot-long skull of Spinosaurus was shaped like a giant crocodile with straight, conical teeth. Not only was this dinosaur huge, but it was also the first 'land' dinosaur that lived in water as we know it!

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unique discovery

Largest Animal That Ever Walked On Earth: Spinosaurus
Scientists originally thought that Spinosaurus looked a bit like T. rex, with a crocodile-like head (pictured). However, recent discoveries suggest that Spinosaurus was actually semi-aquatic, with short hind legs and a large paddle-shaped tail.

©Mercury Green/Shutterstock.com

The first Spinosaurus was discovered during a paleontological excavation in western Egypt between 1910 and 1914 organized by Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach. No one has ever seen a dinosaur like it. Stromer attempted to reconstruct the Spinosaurus skeleton from the bones his team collected. Although they found many bones, the bodies were not complete, so Sturmer relied on information gleaned from other theropods. He deduces that the large dinosaur stood on its hind legs like T. rex, but more clumsily and unbalanced. Stromer's reconstruction of the Spinosaurus was a scientific success and is on display at the Museum of Paleontology in Munich.

Unfortunately, bombing during World War II destroyed the museum and the entire Spinosaurus skeleton. While some fossils of relatives of Spinosaurus dinosaurs were found in the years after the war, none of them belonged to Spinosaurus. All that remains of the largest carnivore ever recorded is drawings and descriptions published by Stromer.

A New and Improved Spinosaurus

Spinosaurus and prehistoric fish
Spinosaurus lived in what is now North Africa, Morocco and Egypt. This photo shows the illustrative size difference between a human and a Spinosaurus.

©Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

Nazir Ibrahim is a comparative anatomist and paleontologist who has been fascinated by Spinosaurus since childhood. In 2008, he traveled to the Kem Kem Beds in southeastern Morocco to find fossils. The region's prehistoric river systems once thrived with aquatic life (including fish the size of cars!). Miners in the area dig here and collect fossils to sell to collectors. Ibrahim realized that because the miners worked here year-round, they had a better chance of making important discoveries than many paleontologists. Ibrahim was connected to a miner who unearthed fossils that may have belonged to Spinosaurus. Analysis of the bones confirmed that they matched parts of the Spinosaurus skeleton at the National Historical Museum in Milan, Italy.

Overjoyed by the new discovery, Ibrahim returned to Morocco in 2013 with Paul Sereno, head of the Fossil Laboratory at the University of Chicago, and David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth. As the team found more bone fossils, Ibrahim combined them with other partial finds. Looking back at Stromer's original description in 1934, he reconstructed a new Spinosaurus that was more complete than the original Spinosaurus.

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What did the "new" Spinosaurus look like?

Spinosaurus skeleton
Spinosaurus had dense and dense bones that allowed it to control its buoyancy in the water. Scientists believe this semi-aquatic dinosaur hunted and navigated rivers like today's crocodiles. "

©Evgeniy Mahnyov/Shutterstock.com

Ibrahim's recent discovery and skeletal reconstructions suggest that Spinosaurus was the largest carnivorous dinosaur we know of. Longer and heavier than Tyrannosaurus Rex! The updated skeleton suggests that Spinosaurus was long rather than tall, with a slender torso, smaller pelvis, and shorter hind legs. The bones themselves are compact and dense. Many semi-aquatic animals on Earth today have the same type of skeleton, such as manatees and penguins. This bone composition helps them better control their buoyancy underwater. These findings suggest that this largest predator not only once hunted near water sources, but likely spent most of its time in and under water!

Semi-aquatic Spinosaurus

Spinosaurus roar
Spinosaurus had a huge tail which added to its length.

©Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

The new discovery of this aquatic spinosaur was not easily accepted by the entire scientific community. Ibrahim decided to go back to Morocco to find more evidence. In 2018, he and his team braved the 115-degree high temperature and dry desert wind to continue digging in layers of sandstone. In the end, the team found gold and extracted a coccyx (or coccyx). Within minutes, the team was pulling more and more tailbones from the rock. More than 30 tail vertebrae were eventually recovered.

Not long after, in 2019, Ibrahim and his team unearthed several Spinosaurus foot bones, as well as a small vertebra at the tip of the tail. They never found matching or duplicate fragments, suggesting that all the bones belonged to the same Spinosaurus dinosaur. Back in the lab, Ibrahim pieced the bones together. He realized that the tail of the largest carnivore ever recorded was much larger and surprisingly shaped than originally thought.

Aquatic adaptations of Spinosaurus

Spinosaurus group
Spinosaurus had dense and dense bones that allowed it to control its buoyancy in the water. The dinosaur also had a large paddle-shaped tail that propelled it forward as it hunted aquatic prey.

©Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

Ibrahim discovered that the spinosaurus' coccyx was loosely connected, allowing it to move easily and smoothly. Bones also protrude from the vertebrae in the shape of giant paddles. Why did dinosaurs need such paddle-shaped tails on land ? On the other hand, a large built-in tail rotor is perfect for easy sailing in the water.

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Spinosaurus - Paddletail
It is now thought that Spinosaurus had a "paddle-like" tail that helped it navigate the water.

©Mercury Green/Shutterstock.com

It's also fun to stitch the foot bones together. The result was a long, strong foot with flattened claws, quite different from other carnivorous dinosaurs. In fact, the bony anatomy of the Spinosaurus foot was similar to that of a shorebird. This suggests that the largest predator ever to have had webbed feet, an added advantage for catching aquatic prey. It is also possible that the large spines on the Spinosaurus' back served as sails or dorsal fins.

Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park

Spinosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus rex
Spinosaurus' short hind legs and muscular thighs were well suited for paddling.

©Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

Like Tyrannosaurus rex, the remarkable Spinosaurus made an appearance in Hollywood as the villain of the 2001 Hollywood film Jurassic Park III. However, the Spinosaurus depicted in the movie was created long before Ibrahim's groundbreaking discovery. Thus, Jurassic Park 's Spinosaurus resembled a type of Tyrannosaurus rex that ran on land with long hind legs, rather than a creature larger than the largest carnivorous dinosaurs.

The late 2015 film Jurassic World added irony to this initial misrepresentation of Spinosaurus. Towards the end of the movie, a genetically modified tyrannical T-Rex chases Owen Grady, Claire Dearing, and Claire's two nephews through a dinosaur-themed park. The camera cuts to Owen warning the boys to keep quiet as they take shelter in one of the gift shops. In the square behind Owen stands a huge Spinosaurus skeleton. Claire unleashes the T-Rex in a last-ditch effort to save everyone. In a clever reference to Ibrahim's newfound discovery, the Tyrannosaurus rex violently smashes the ancient Spinosaurus skeleton on its way to attack the tyrannical overlord.


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Spinosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus rex

© Herschel Hoffmeyer/Shutterstock.com

about the author

For 10 years I have been a professional writer with a special focus on nature, wildlife, ethnozoology and the human-animal relationship. My areas of interest include human-animal studies, ecocriticism, wildlife conservation, pets, and animal behavior. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a master's degree in comparative studies, focusing on the relationship between humans and the natural world. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, watching movies, reading, creating art, and taking care of my pets. Nothing makes me happier than spending a day in the company of animals.

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