SPINOSAURUS — NEW, IMPROVED, WITH ADDED FEROCITY!
Whew! That Spinosaurus aegyptiacus just barely missed me! Sometimes I long for the days of the slow, tail-dragging dinosaurs. Remember Dimetrodon? My husband has had this model since he was a kid. Kind of a cute critter, huh? Even if it wasn’t a real dinosaur, that Dimetrodon certainly knew how to rock its dorsal sail back in the Triassic, approximately 280 million years ago.
Time marches on and long after Dimetrodon went extinct, a Cretaceous dinosaur came on the scene with another incredible dorsal sail. Enter Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. Paleontologists recently announced the recovery of a number of new fossilized bones from this 50-foot long theropod. This beast was 10 feet longer than T. Rex— and still growing! The first photo is one interpretation of what it may have looked like. But be warned: there is controversy about the accuracy of this reconstruction. Because a reasonably complete skeleton has never been found, this model necessarily represents a combination of different fossils from different individuals. Some may have been bigger than others; some might be juveniles and others adults. Also, these discoveries were made at different times in different geographic regions, and some bones could have been twisted or compressed before they were fossilized. In addition, a lot of bones have never been found and must be inferred from those of related species. So the latest version of Spinosaurus may very well change if/when more bones are discovered.
In any case, how could you not be awed by this 97-million-year old Cretaceous beast that could eat sharks? Though it was found in a very dry part of Morocco, it lived in a riverine environment, and may have been aquatic, at least some of the time. Why do some paleo-biologists think so? First, Spinosaurus had dense, heavy ribs and long bones that could be used for ballast in the water. Second, its large, conical teeth and jaws are well designed for eating slippery fish and cracking turtle shells. Its jaws certainly have a crocodilian look to them. Spinosaurus may have had pressure-sensitive receptors on its snout enabling it to detect prey underwater. It also had nostrils placed like those of a crocodile so it could breathe while swimming. However, there may be other land-dwelling dinosaurs with similarly placed nostrils. Though some disagree, it’s been asserted that Spinosaurus‘ back legs and feet would have been better adapted for swimming than walking on land; those back feet might even have been webbed. Plus, there was plenty for Spinosaurus to munch on in the African rivers of the Mesozoic. It could eat fish the size of a car. If you’re in the D.C. area, you can get a look at it in the National Geographic Museum.
So did this fellow evolve from Dimetrodon? Unlikely. While both beasts had “dorsal sails,” this may be an example of convergent evolution. That happens when unrelated species evolve similar traits or features independently, which are used to perform similar functions. As the saying goes, form follows function. Which raises the question, just what is the purpose of those seven-foot long spines on its back? The conventional thinking is that they are for “display” – to attract a mate or warn away others of its kind who might fancy the same mate or the same territory. Really? That’s an awful lot of energy for display. Besides, wouldn’t some of its prey see that fin coming a mile away? Another intriguing hypothesis is that it served as mechanism for storing fat, which it could convert to energy. It’s also been suggested that it was used as a means of propulsion in the water as it may have swung its tail when swimming. Or, it could have been a way to regulate body temperature by dissipating heat, which seems to be the case with Dimetrodon.
If you live in the DC area or are visiting any time soon, you can see this life-sized re-creation of Spinosaurus outside the National Geographic Museum. A full-sized skeleton is on display inside.
Raise your hand if you can name two dinosaurs from the once-reknown Tendaguru fossil beds of Tanzania. . . . Didn’t think so. After lending their considerable support to the theory of continental drift, these truly remarkable Jurassic beasts seem to have gone out of fashion. Maybe that’s because the excavations in what was once German East Africa took place over a hundred years ago. Or perhaps it’s because the fossils ended up on display in Germany, not in the U.S. More’s the pity.
Here’s a brief sample of what was uncovered:
- The largest complete Brachiosaurus skeleton in the world.
- Bad-ass bi-pedal theropods like Elaphrosaurus, Allosaurus, and the horned-nose Ceratosaurus. Carnivores like T. rex and Velociraptor have got nothing on these top-of-the-food-chain predators.
- Kentrosaurus, which is a stegosaur that sports foot-long spikes down its spine and tail, in addition to the familiar bony plates between its shoulder blades.
I liked that Kentrosaurus so much that I made it the star of my latest Analog story, Dino Mate. Check out the December 2014 issue of the magazine, which just came out.
Wooing that special creature who makes one’s heart beat faster can’t be easy, considering that row of two-foot long spikes running down one’s back and tail. Or if your plan to go time-jumping with the woman of your dreams ends up as a threesome. My latest story—Dino Mate—is a lighthearted look at love in the Jurassic Era. Check out the December 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact for a sequel to my previous story, Not With a Bang.
CASTING CALL FOR JURASSIC DINOSAURS
Today, I’ve just about completed the casting for the dinosaurs starring in a new story set in the Jurassic. The competition for a role in my story was tough, as I’ve said “sorry, no” to Allosaurus, and Stegosaurus, and the entire herd of Apatosaurs. I mean, impressive as they are, haven’t we all seen these guys enough already?
Besides, some fresh-faced discoveries are coming from China, and are they ever strutting their feathers. For example, Anchiornis huxleyi showed up for the audition sporting long black and white feathers on all four limbs, rather like a mutant chicken. Next, little Epidexipterxy hui, dropped out of the trees and wowed me with a set of upper and lower fangs that any vampire would envy. Even the modest little ornithopods are more than they seem. Naturally, one can never discount Juramaia sinensis, the mammal that just might steal the show.
In other words, I’ve been doing research. But don’t suppose that means the next step will be plotting, to be followed by writing. No indeed. I had already sketched out six scenes and written 5000 words before most of the non-human cast arrived. You see, when I’m enthusiastic about a project, I start writing as soon as any characters or critters start doing interesting stuff. Put another way, just as character and plot are intrinsically intertwined, I find that so are researching, plotting, and writing.
NEXT ANALOG DINOSAUR STORY
I’m happy to announce that the December issue of Analog will include a story of mine, which features some characters you may have seen before (in Not with a Bang) as they contend with some of my favorite Jurassic dinosaurs, including the Kentrosaurus.
A DINOSAUR DESIGNED BY COMMITTEE?
One of my favorite dinosaurs is the Kentrosaurus. What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of it? Well, think of a Stegasaurus whose designers couldn’t agree as to whether it should have plates or spikes poking out along its spine from stem to stern. So, in best consensus-building tradition, the committee members ordered up some of both. Here ’tis:
Though it may look fierce, this creature was a plant-eater living in East Africa during the Late Jurassic, 156-150 million years ago. I like it so well that it’s going to star in my next short story to see print. More about that later. As they say, watch this space.
WALK LIKE A PTEROSAUR
While pterosaurs aren’t actually dinosaurs, they are, of course, some of the more remarkable creatures of the Mesozoic. Usually, we picture huge pterosaurs gliding overhead.
So how did they get around when they weren’t in the air? This question has been a controversial one for some time, as there are several possibilities ranging from belly-dragging lizard-like locomotion to walking on their hind limbs with their spines horizontal like a bipedal dinosaur, to a more erect bipedal stance. However, in recent years, there’s been some evidence that at least some of them may have been quadrupedal.
It’s been suggested that being quadrupedal may have helped them generate the oomph to leap into flight – no small matter for the largest species of pterosaurs that weighed upwards of 150 pounds.
Here are a couple of articles, with illustrations.