You may remember Spinosaurus aegyptiacus as the villain of "Jurassic Park III." In that 2001 movie, the sail-backed carnivore swims up to a barge and attacks the human passengers. It's a cool action scene, but did Spinosaurus really hunt that way?
Since the 1980s, experts have been wondering if the strange creature was amphibious. The debate thickened in 2014. Spinosaurus has always been an elusive dinosaur; its fossils are rare and those that are found tend to be fragmented or incomplete. So when a load of fresh information was announced in 2014, natural history fans got pretty excited. Paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim and his colleagues wrote a now-famous paper describing the partial skeletons of at least two individual Spinosaurus that were found in Morocco.
Using these bones, Ibrahim's team reinterpreted the way Spinosaurus might've looked and behaved. Scientists used to assume that, like most meat-eating dinosaurs, the animal's rear legs were significantly longer than its arms.
But upon reviewing the new specimens, Ibrahim and his team concluded that Spinosaurus was a short-legged giant — a weird-looking beast with an estimated length of 50 feet (15.5 meters) and disproportionately small hindlimbs. Such a creature seemed ill-suited for walking around on two legs over dry land. Pointing to its weird body shape (along with some other features), Ibrahim and his co-authors said Spinosaurus was a semiaquatic predator who swam after fish in its marshy African habitat 97 million years ago.
A new paper calls this into question. Our friend Spinosaurus may have had an affinity for waterways, but according to a series of recent computer simulations, it was a mediocre swimmer.