If you think back to most of Hollywood’s dinosaur-based films, then you’ll probably remember that the bulk of dinosaurs depicted were land-dwellers, and that an even smaller number of those dinosaurs took to the skies for flight. While it’s true that you can’t always rely what you see on the silver screen for facts, it turns out that this one mundane detail was widely accepted by scientists long before being picked up by the entertainment industry. But just how true is it?
Fossil records support the notion that dinosaurs were mostly land-dwellers, and while we’re certain that some dinosaurs spent much of their time in the air, one component that appears to be missing is the existence of aquatic dinosaurs. Was there ever any such thing? – A very good question. Unfortunately, there very little evidence exists involving fossils to suggest that any dinosaurs lived full-time marine lifestyles.
Image Credit: Davide Bonadonna
Perhaps the only peculiar exception to this general rule of thumb was the partial skeletal remains of something paleontologists called Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. While these partial remains were first discovered more than a century ago, they continued to spark discussion in the scientific community even today since they only comprised of the front half of the beast.
The partial remains of this confusingly mysterious dinosaur were particularly interesting because they told the story of a marine-style dinosaur that was just as ferocious as any other eat-eater at the time, but it spent most of its time behaving like a fish in the water instead of hoofing around on land. Unfortunately, paleontologists never found the remaining components of the skeleton to complete the back-half; until just recently, that is…
A paper published at the end of last month in the journal Nature paints Spinosaurus as a tail-propelled aquatic dinosaur. The discovery of several more fragments of Spinosaurus’ remains in recent years have brought us much closer to completing this unique dinosaur’s skeleton, and a near 80%-complete structure found in 2018 revealed that the beast’s tail sported a fin-like structure tantamount to those found on today’s large aquatic predators.
To be clear, even land-based dinosaurs probably stewed around in natural bodies of water to cool off on a hot day, but Spinosaurus was remarkably different in that its body was literally built for surviving in the water alone. If true, then this would change everything we know about dinosaurs forever.
While the research is certainly interesting and opens our eyes to the potential of a novel dimension for dinosaurs, the researchers warn that we still have a lot to learn before we can make any assumptions about dinosaurs in general. For example, Spinosaurus is still the only dinosaur on record that appears to have lived in the water full-time, and we don’t yet know enough about it or if there were other dinosaurs just like it.
It should be interesting to see what paleontologists find as they continue their search for dinosaur fossils. Perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll learn that Spinosaurus wasn’t alone.