Spinosaurus has been recently revised from a long-legged terrestrial big brother to Baryonyx, to a short-legged aquatic giant that probably found it difficult to walk bipedally (Ibrahim et al. 2014; Fig. 1). As the only quadrupedal theropod, Spinosaurus needs to be considered in terms of its environment.
As the only aquatic dinosaur (until Hesperornis, ducks and penguins came along), Spinosaurus was unlike its closest sisters in several regards. It was larger. It had shorter hind limbs. And it had that famous sail back. If we put Spinosaurus into it proper environment, shallow waters, then the reason for the sail, the great size and the short hind limbs becomes readily apparent.
Sail for thermoregulation
Most dinosaurs did not live in water. Those that do (like aquatic birds) are covered with insulating feathers that keep them warm. Spinosaurus likely did not have feathers, or enough feathers to keep it warm, but it did have that sail. Exposed above the surface to the warmer air, the sail could have helped Spinosaurus maintain a higher body temperature in cooler waters. Overheating was unlikely surrounded by water. Other theropods with longer dorsal spines, like Acrocanthosaurus, show no aquatic adaptations.
Short legs for walking underwater
The hind limbs on Spinosaurus are so short relative to the body that it is difficult to see how it could have walked bipedally like other theropod dinosaurs. Those heavily clawed arms appear to be ill-suited to support the great weight of its forequarters. In an aquatic environment, however, that great weight essentially disappears. Spinosaurus could have walked along the muddy/sandy bottom. It is not known if the hind feet were webbed, but they look like they were best articulated when they were spread (Fig. 2).
Spinosaurus likely preferred water of a certain depth. Deep enough to cover everything but the sail (floating enough to keep weight off its feet), yet just deep enough to touch the bottom with its clawed feet. After all, Spinosaurus did not have flippers or fins. That’s not to say it didn’t swim in deeper waters, or visit shallower waters. After all, it had to lay eggs on land, but it is likely to have been awkward when not supported by water.
At the same time and in the same waters as Spinosaurus several different types of giant fish co-existed. Many, no doubt, were on Spinosaurus’ menu. Younger spinosaurs would have eaten younger, smaller fish. The snout of Spinosaurus has many small pits. These are thought to have housed pressure sensors to detect prey in murky waters, as in living crocs.
Spinosaurus has been well studied
and there is little else I can add to the data and hypotheses available online here, here and here. The Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park 3 represents the old long-legged, terrestrial version, so best to forget images of Spino attacking T-rex on land. There is great artwork of the new Spinosaurus here, here, here and here.
And I just ran across this beauty.
Ibrahim N, Sereno PC, Dal Sasso C, Maganuco S, Fabbri M, Martill DM, Zouhri S, Myhrvold N, Iurino DA 2014. Semiaquatic adaptations in a giant predatory dinosaur. Science. doi:10.1126/science.1258750.