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A new, huge dinosaur with crocodile-like jaws, long, razor-sharp teeth, and huge curving claws has been found in the Sahara desert. Paul Sereno, a paleontologist from the University of Chicago, USA, discovered this new species, a fish-eating dinosaur from Niger, Africa. This new predator will be named Suchomimus tenerensis.
"It's a dinosaur trying hard to be a crocodile. ... It was an impressive-sized beast. If you were standing next to it, your eye level would be at its knee," said Paul Sereno, who led the 18-member scientific expedition to Niger last year. "This animal was easily the size of Tyrannosaurus rex. And it was not fully grown." "With its forearms and its jaws, it would have been able to take down just about anything," said Sereno. "It was the dominant predator of its time."
David Varricchio discovered Suchomimus' claw on December 4, 1997, leading to the discovery of over 400 fossilized skeleton pieces buried nearby. These fragments account for about 70% of the animal's skeleton.
Suchomimus tenerensis (meaning "crocodile mimic from Tenere," after the part of the Sahara desert where it was found) was a fish-eating (and meat-eating) spinosaurid theropod dinosaur. It was about 36 feet (11 m) long, about 12 feet tall, and walked on two powerful hindlegs. This carnivore had short clawed arms with three fingers. One finger on each hand had a 1-foot long, sickle-like claw on the end of a 16-inch (40 cm) long thumb. "The hand is amazing," Sereno said. "It was probably ideal for fishing, for grabbing ... into those large fish."
In its crocodile-like pointed jaw, it had about 100 pointed teeth. These razor-sharp teeth faced slightly backwards. The very end of the snout was tipped with an extra, chin-like projection, called a rosette, that held the longest teeth, ideal for grabbing prey.
Suchomimus had a sail-like structure along its back, perhaps used for regulating its temperature. This sail captured heat in the cool mornings, giving the predator an edge on other cold-blooded animals. Also, in the sweltering heat of the Cretaceous afternoons, Suchomimus could dissipate extra heat through its sail.
Suchomimus lived about 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. During this time, the Sahara was a verdant area, filled with vegetation. Sereno said that it "was a lush climate that could support many different species of dinosaurs."
Many fossil fish were found in the vicinity. The fossils of huge crocodiles were also found nearby. During the Cretaceous period, Suchomimus and crocodiles probably competed for the same prey. "The most common thing we stumbled on is a very long-snouted and very large crocodile," Sereno said. "We collected a 6-foot skull. The crocodile would have been about 50 feet long."
Pterosaur fossils (flying reptiles) were also found. Sereno said, "We think that area was pretty well maxed out so far as the number of large animals you could put into that environment."
MIGRATION OF SPINOSAURS
Suchomimus belonged to the group of meat-eating dinosaurs called spinosaurs. They had vertebral spines and long snouts with conical, crocodile-like teeth. The Spinosaurids "represent one of the most successful radiations of terrestrial predators in earth history," Thomas Holtz, a paleontologist from the University of Maryland wrote in a commentary in today's Science magazine. Other Spinosaurids include: Angaturama, Baryonyx, Irritator, Siamosaurus , and Spinosaurus (which had a very tall sail).
A page on theropod dinosaurs.
All about the Mesozoic Era and the Cretaceous period.
Other fossils found in Africa.
More about Paul Sereno and other paleontologists and fossil hunters.
Chart of geological time.
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