Spinosaurus Takes Over Nat Geo

The long-extinct Spinosaurus — the first dinosaur known to dwell in water — is back on its feet. Well, sort of. A life-size bone model of the supersize predator, built by an international team of scientists that included University of Chicago paleontologists Paul Sereno and Nizar Ibrahim, is currently on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.


A partial Spinosaurus skeleton was first identified in 1912 by a German paleontologist during his expeditions to the Sahara in Egypt. Those fossils were later put on display at a museum in Munich, Germany. During World War II in the 1940s, bombing demolished the museum and its many treasures, including the skeleton. The only known Spinosaurus bones were lost.


Fast-forward to 2008, when new Spinosaurus fossils were found in the Moroccan Sahara along desert cliffs known as the Kem Kem beds. It turned out that these bones matched a partial Spinosaurus skeleton that had recently turned up at the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy. All of these bones belonged to the same dinosaur.


In 2013 Sereno, whose relationship with National Geographic spans more than three decades and who heads the University of Chicago’s Fossil Lab, and Ibrahim, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, worked with an international team of researchers to analyze these fossils and create a computer model of the dinosaur’s entire skeleton. Then the scientists used a 3-D printer to produce a replica of each bone, and these artificial remains were assembled into the life-size model.


By studying the dino duplicate, the team confirmed that Spinosaurus grew to approximately 50 feet in length, nearly 10 feet longer than the largest T. rex specimen. The scientists also noticed that Spinosaurus had odd features not seen in other dinosaurs, such as feet that may have been webbed and a crocodile-like snout. Sereno, Ibrahim, and the other researchers realized that these traits would help the predator survive in water and came to the surprising conclusion that Spinosaurus was semi-aquatic.


Last fall Sereno and Ibrahim brought the life-size skeletal replica to National Geographic headquarters to be the centerpiece of the National Geographic Museum exhibition. The exhibition remains in Washington, D.C., until April 12, 2015, and will then travel around the world. And as the researchers continue to study Spinosaurus, you can expect this water-dwelling dino to make more waves.


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