Behold, the World's First Semiaquatic Dinosaur

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The 100 million-year-old skeleton of a spinosaurus dinosaur, found in Morocco in 2009, is prepared for display at the Fossilworld section of Munich show Minerallentage Muenchen 2012, in Munich October 24, 2012. Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Here's something you didn't see in The Land Before Time: An international research team of scientists has confirmed the existence of the world's first semiaquatic dinosaur, in today's edition of the journal Science. The Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a ferocious Cretaceous-era creature, is reported to have been the largest predatory dinosaur on Earth. The dinosaur was discovered to have outsized even the Tyrannosaurus rex by nine feet. The study's lead author Nizar Ibrahim described his work on the Spinosaurus as sort of "like studying an alien from outer space; it's unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen."

New fossils indicated that the Spinosaurus was a unique predator, bearing several special traits that allowed it to adapt to a marine environment about 95 million years ago. Some of these adaptations include large slanted teeth, which made it able to readily catch fish; an elongated trunk and neck allowing the dino to propel its center of mass forward; and flat, lengthy claws. Spinosaurus had long bones in their feet and may have even had webbed feet that let them to paddle or walk on soft surfaces, like mud.

Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, a German paleontologist, is cited as the first scientist to detail Spinosaurus's existence, way back in 1915, and begin to reconstruct it from fossil records. Stromer's notes described a fascinating batch of theropod fossils discovered by fossil collector Richard Markgraf in the Egyptian Sahara three years earlier. He named the creature Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, or "Egyptian spine lizard." But Stromer's work was put on hold for years, as his fossils and original work were decimated by the April 1944 Allied bombing of Munich, Germany, during World War II.

Although Stromer is credited with discovering Spinosaurus, contemporary researchers have taken his research further and fully reconstructed the creature's skeleton, shedding new light on its unique traits. Ibrahim dug up Stromer's sketches and notes about Spinosaurus at the late scientist's Bavarian family castle to aid the research he was conducting on new Spinosaurus fossils found in the Moroccan Sahara.

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The fossils were discovered in the Kem Kem beds, a series of desert cliffs in the region that used to comprise a river system running from Morocco to Egypt. The area was once rich with marine life, and included massive flying reptiles, predatory dinosaurs, sharks and creatures resembling crocodiles. It wasn't easy getting the rare Spinosaurus bones: Researchers heard that a Moroccan fossil hunter had found a partial Spinosaurus skeleton, and they said that tracking him down initially was "like searching for a needle in a desert." Eventually, they obtained the dinosaur remains.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, researchers fashioned a digital model of the Spinosaurus skeleton. To piece together the creature's skeleton, the researchers CT scanned the new fossils and implemented digital renditions of Stromer's drawings.

Then researchers used the model to re-create a life-size and anatomically precise replica of the dino skeleton. What they found was not only a gigantic creature, but one that offers a possible explanation to how Cretaceous-era dinosaurs were able to adapt to semiaquatic life and thrive in river systems. So move over, T. rex. There's now a more interesting predator in town.

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Behold, the World's First Semiaquatic Dinosaur | Tech & Science