Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous

Took the chance last week to visit the temporary Spinosaurus exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

The first part of the exhibit showcased the history of Spinosaurus discoveries, accompanied by explanatory clips that I assume are part of the upcoming Nova episode on the new Spinosaurus find.

The exhibit is well illustrated by Davide Bonadonna. His various depictions of the Kem Kem ecosystem can be seen, not only as part of the signage as this one is, but also as backdrops for the displays.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, naturally, is the reconstructed skeleton of Spinosaurus, based on newly-described material and mounted in a swimming pose, menacing a model of the sawfish Onchopristis.

The short legs in the new reconstruction of Spinosaurus that have been the source of much controversy.

The reconstructed forelimb of Spinosaurus.

A close-up of the skull.

The distinctive sail.

The foot of Spinosaurus with a cormorant skeleton for comparison. No, Spinosaurus is not the only semi-aquatic dinosaur.

Part of the jaw with a gharial skull. Something of a shame that they didn't have any Suchomimus material for contrast, however.

Surrounding the mount were displays featuring certain contemporaries of Spinosaurus, highlighting the ubiquity of predators in this unusual ecosystem. Here are the crocodyliforms Laganosuchus (back) and Elosuchus (front).

A model of the giant coelacanth Mawsonia.

A model of the pterosaur Alanqa was suspended from the ceiling. The lighting made it difficult to get a satisfactory photo.

The head and skull of Rugops. Its portrayal as a scavenger was somewhat bothersome, especially as one of the lines of reasoning given for that interpretation were its small arms. I am aware that evidence for a predominantly scavenging lifestyle in Rugops has been suggested, but there is little reason to assume obligate scavenging in any terrestrial animal, which should have been made more clear.

A skeletal mount of Deltadromeus, with a speculative skull.

The head and skull of Carcharodontosaurus with a maxillary fragment below.

In the guestbook tucked in a corner of the display area, a comment lamenting the lack of Aegisuchus indicated that Nick Gardner had visited the exhibit not long before me. Alas, I did not end up running into him.

As the exhibit closed down for the end of the day, I headed toward the other reason I had been at the museum that night: a talk by Nizar Ibrahim and Paul Sereno was being given there. Ibrahim started off with a history of Ernst Stromer's research on Spinosaurus and his own experiences discovering the new material. Sereno then followed up with a presentation about the semi-aquatic adaptations seen in Spinosaurus. Audience members already familiar with the paper and news reports on the new Spinosaurus were probably unlikely to have gained much new information from the talk, but both Ibrahim and Sereno were entertaining speakers and it was nice to hear their take on the findings in person.

Upon leaving the building, I passed by the life restoration of Spinosaurus that is just outside the museum.