The first ever evidence of a dinosaur which swam, lived and hunted underwater has been discovered in the now-barren wilderness of the Saharan desert.
Paleontologists have unearthed new fossils in southeastern Morocco that provide a deeper understanding of one of the greatest mysteries of the dinosaur world: The Spinosaurus.
Moroccan-German paleontologist and researcher Nizar Ibrahim spearheaded the new study on the discovery of fossil bones from a Spinosaurus tail, published in the science journal Nature yesterday, April 29.
The river Monster – called Spinosaurus aegyptiacus – lived in North Africa 95 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. The highly unusual animal was the biggest predator to ever walk the planet, up to 15 meters (50 feet) long and weighing seven tons.
The Spinosaurus aegyptiacus powered through the water with a fin-like tail and captured slippery prey with six-inch long conical teeth.
A fossilised tail of a juvenile of the species, which belongs to the therepod group, the same as the T-rex, was found in modern-day Morocco.
Adults are known to reach up to 50ft long and weigh up to 20 tonnes but this specimen had yet to reach its full size, measuring 35ft from snout to tail and weighing around four tonnes.
The findings suggest the Spinosaurus terrorized both rivers and riverbanks as a semi-aquatic dinosaur, eating huge fish and even sharks. The Spinosaurus still was able to move on land, perhaps walking on four legs rather than two, and lay eggs there.
“But it had so many adaptations to an aquatic existence,” said University of Portsmouth paleontologist and study co-author David Martill.
Its “nostrils high on the skull and further back from the tip, flat bottomed-toe bones and claws, dense and thickened bone for buoyancy control, and this newly discovered tail form” made the Spinosaurus “at least as aquatic as Nile Crocodiles,” he added.
Harvard University vertebrate paleontologist and biomechanist Stephanie Pierce, a study co-author, said the “discovery overturns decades-old ideas that non-bird dinosaurs were restricted to terrestrial environments.”
“We believe that this discovery does indeed revolutionize our understanding of dinosaur biology,” she continued. “It just might topple T. rex as the most famous and exciting meat-eating dinosaur.”
In the history of paleontology, no researcher has ever found evidence of a terrestrial dinosaur spending most of its life in water—until the discovery of the Spinosaurus. The latest study on the findings in southeastern Morocco confirms the Spinosaurus was, in fact, the first and perhaps only aquatic dinosaur.