Friday, November 06, 2015

SPINOSAURUS: Riding the Wheel of Fortune

The story of Spinosaurus is one of fortune found, lost, and found again. One of the largest of the Meat-eaters, Spinosaurus captured popular imagination with his mysterious sail. However, not much was known about this popular Dinosaur until 2013, when Dame Fortune smiled on the paleontologists seeking to know more about Him.

The story of Spinosaurus began with the discovery of fossils in 1912 in Egypt by Richard Markgraf. Afterwards Baron Ernst Stromer, Markgraf’s employer, named these bones Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, “Spine Lizard of Egypt.” Spinosaurus was named for his dorsal spines, which formed into a sail shape. Returning to Germany, Stromer housed his fossil collection of Spinosaurus in a museum in Munich. This proved to be disastrous when the Allies bombed the city in 1944. All that remained as proof that Spinosaurus ever existed were a few fragments of his snout and “fluted crests” displayed in museums elsewhere. The only depiction of his sail was Strummer’s drawings, which was all that was left for paleontologists to study.

Throughout the intervening years, this Dinosaur remained a mystery. The enigma of Spinosaurus was partially solved by Nizar Ibrahim, who uncovered more fossils in Morocco. Fascinated by Spinosaurus since boyhood, Ibrahim studied to be a paleontologist. After receiving a box of bones in 2008, he tried to track down the Bedouin who originally brought him the fossils. After five years of fruitless searching, Ibrahim found the man as he walked by Ibrahim’s table at an outside cafe. The Bedouin took Ibrahim to a site in Morocco, where more fossils of Spinosaurus could be found.

From this treasure trove of fossils emerged a formable predator. Larger than Tyrannosaurus rex, Spinosaurus had sharp straight teeth housed in powerful haws. Unlike many other Dinosaurs, He could walk on four or two legs, as well as swim. In examining fossils of Spinosaurus, scientists realized that He was a fish eater in a region of rivers rich with marine life. A swimmer, this huge hunter would feast on fish.

This realization solved another mystery referred to as “Stromer’s Riddle.” The question was “Why did North Africa have more Meat-eaters than Plant-eaters.” Usually, this ratio is reversed since one Carnivore needs about twenty Herbivores in order to survive. However, the region of North Africa supported three enormous Carnivores. What did these hungry Dinosaurs eat if there were only a few Plant-eaters? One answer: Spinosaurus ate fish.

With his center of gravity structured for easily moving in water, Spinosaurus hunted underwater. He had a long narrow head and nostrils high up on his snout. Resting in the water, Spinosaurus looked like a crocodile. His dense bones enabled Him to effortlessly dive deep like a penguin. His webbed front feet and powerful hind legs were like a duck’s. An accomplished swimmer, Spinosaurus feasted on fish and other marine life. Paleontologist Paul Sereno observed, “It was a Chimera – a half-duck, half-crocodile.”

By being a swimmer, Spinosaurus changed how scientists viewed Dinosaurs. He broke through the established scientific thinking on what Dinosaurs were about. Perhaps more insights about the nature of these Animals can be made through further studies of Him.

But mystery still surrounds enigmatic Spinosaurus. What was his sail used for? Stromer struggled for years to figure out why Spinosaurus needed it. Also, he pondered whether it was a merely a hump or a large spinal fin. Amongst the Spinosaurids (the Family that Spinosaurus and Baryonyx belong to), Spinosaurus is the only one with a sail. Perhaps the dorsal “hump” was to warn others that this was his territory. When other predators saw it rising from his half-submerged body, They knew to stay away. Perhaps someday, Dame Fortune will uncover that mystery.

The history of Spinosaurus depicts how the Wheel of Fortune works. First Dame Fortune smiled, then frowned, and finally smiled again. What can be learned is to remain steadfast and patient, for Dame Fortune will turn her wheel again. What may be lost today will be found tomorrow. Along the way, work hard and be prepared for the opportunity to occur. Nizar Ibrahim continued Ernest Stromer’s work, against all the odds, and found more fossils of this Dinosaur. What chances Dame Fortune gave him, he took. Spinosaurus reminds us that luck changes, and we need to be best prepared. Ride the Wheel of Fortune with this Dinosaur.

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