Monday, December 7, 2009

Spinosaurus

Spinosaurus (meaning "spine lizard") is a genus of theropod dinosaur which lived in what is now North Africa, from the mid-Albian to Turonian stages of the Cretaceous period, about 106 to 93.5 million years ago. This genus was first known from Egyptian remains discovered in the 1910s and described by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer. These original remains were destroyed in World War II, but additional skull material has come to light in recent years. It is unclear whether one or two species are represented in the described fossils. The best known species is S. aegyptiacus from Egypt, although a potential second species, S. marocannus, has been recovered from Morocco.

The distinctive spines of Spinosaurus, which were long extensions of the vertebrae, grew up to 2 meters (7 ft) long and were likely to have had skin connecting them, forming a sail-like structure, although some authors have suggested that they were covered in muscle and formed a hump or ridge. Multiple functions have been put forward for this structure, including thermoregulation and display. According to recent estimates, Spinosaurus is the largest of all known carnivorous dinosaurs, even larger than Tyrannosaurus rex and Giganotosaurus. These estimates suggest that it was around 16 to 18 metres (52 to 59 ft) in length and 7 to 9 tonnes (7.7 to 9.9 short tons) in weight.

Although Spinosaurus is well-known to dinosaur enthusiasts due to its size, sail, and elongated skull, it is mostly known from remains that have been destroyed, aside from a few more recently discovered teeth and skull elements. Additionally, so far only the skull and backbone have been described in detail, and limb bones have not been found. Jaw and skull material published in 2005 show that it had one of the longest skulls of any carnivorous dinosaur, estimated at about 1.75 meters long (5.75 ft). The skull had a narrow snout filled with straight conical teeth that lacked serrations. There were six or seven teeth on each side of the very front of the upper jaw, in the premaxilla bones, and another twelve in both maxillae behind them. The second and third teeth on each side were noticeably larger than the rest of the teeth in the premaxilla, creating a space between them and the large teeth in the anterior maxilla; large teeth in the lower jaw faced this space. The very tip of the snout holding those few large anterior teeth was expanded, and a small crest was present in front of the eyes.
Life restoration of Spinosaurus

The sail of Spinosaurus was formed of very tall neural spines growing on the back vertebrae. These spines were seven to eleven times the height of the vertebrae from which they grew. The spines were slightly longer front to back at the base than higher up, and were unlike the thin rods seen in the pelycosaur finbacks Edaphosaurus and Dimetrodon.

The first described remains of Spinosaurus were found in the Bahariya Valley of Egypt in 1912, and were named by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer in 1915.[5] Fragmentary additional remains from Bahariya, including vertebrae and hindlimb bones, were designated by Stromer as "Spinosaurus B" in 1934.
Occurrence data.

Stromer considered them different enough to belong to another species, and this has been borne out; with the advantage of more expeditions and material, it appears that they either pertain to Carcharodontosaurus or to Sigilmassasaurus. Some of the Spinosaurus fossils were damaged during transport back to the Deutsches Museum, in Munich, Germany, and the remaining bones were completely lost due to Allied bombing in 1944.

Two species of Spinosaurus have been named: Spinosaurus aegyptiacus (meaning "Egyptian spine lizard") and Spinosaurus marocannus (meaning "Moroccan spine lizard"). S. marocannus was originally described by Dale Russell as a new species based on the length of its neck vertebrae. Later authors have been split on this topic, some considering the length of the vertebrae to be variable from individual to individual and therefore regarding S. marocannus as invalid or a synonym of S. aegyptiacus and others retaining it as valid.
Specimens
Stromer's original reconstruction of S. aegyptiacus, 1915

Six partial specimens of Spinosaurus have been described. The probable size of these individual spinosaurs can be estimated using comparison to known material from other spinosaurid dinosaurs. The estimates below are based on the Theropod Database[9] and Dal Sasso et al., 2005.

IPHG 1912 VIII 19, described by Stromer in 1915 from the Bahariya Formation, was the holotype.[5] This specimen, from a subadult individual, was destroyed in World War II. However, detailed drawings and descriptions of the specimen remain. The individual is estimated to have been around 14 meters (46 ft) long and to have weighed about 6.7 tonnes (7.4 short tons). The material consisted of a maxilla (upper jaw) fragment, an incomplete dentary (lower jaw) measuring 75 centimetres (30 in) long, (the skull is estimated to have been 1.45 meters (5 ft) long with a mandible approximately 1.34 meters (4 ft) long), nineteen teeth, two incomplete cervical vertebrae, seven back vertebrae, dorsal ribs, gastralia, and eight caudal centra. This was the specimen that Rauhut thought was chimeric.
S. marocannus jaw fossil, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris

CMN 50791, described by Russell in 1996 from the Kem Kem Beds of Morocco, is the holotype of Spinosaurus marocannus. The material it is based on includes a mid-cervical vertebra which is 19.5 centimetres (7.7 in) long, an anterior dorsal neural arch, an anterior dentary, and a mid-dentary. MNHN SAM 124, described by Taquet and Russell in 1998 from Algeria, consists of partial premaxillae, partial maxillae, vomers, and a dentary fragment. They came from an individual estimated to have been about 14 meters (46 ft) long and to have weighed about 6.7 tonnes (7.4 short tons). The skull is estimated at approximately 1.42 meters (5 ft) long. Office National des Mines nBM231, described by Buffetaut and Ouaja in 2002, consists of an anterior dentary from the Chenini Formation of Tunisia which is very similar to existing material of S. aegyptiacus.

MSNM V4047, described by Cristiano Dal Sasso of the Civic Natural History Museum in Milan and his colleagues in 2005 from the Moroccan Kem Kem Beds, consists of premaxillae, partial maxillae, and partial nasals, which together measure 98.8 centimetres (38.9 in) long. The massive skull is estimated at 1.75 meters (6 ft) long, and the entire animal is estimated to have been around 16 to 18 metres (52 to 59 ft) in length and weighed around 7 to 9 tonnes (7.7 to 9.9 short tons). UCPC-2, also described by Dal Sasso et al. in 2005, consists of a 'fluted crest' from the region in front of the eyes.

Other known specimens consist mainly of very fragmentary remains and scattered teeth. For example, teeth from the Echkar Formation of Niger have been referred to S. aegyptiacus. Possible material belonging to Spinosaurus has also been reported from the Turkana Grits of Kenya and the Cabao Formation of Libya (which dates to the Hauterivian stage), though the assignment of the later to the genus Spinosaurus is tentative. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinosaurus

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