Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Biggest Carnivorous Dinosaur Part 2: Carcharodontosaurus Vs. Spinosaurus

As I promised yesterday, today we are going to take a closer look at Carcharodontosaurus (kar-kar-o-DON-to-SAUR-us).  Carcharodontosaurus was a relative of Colorado's own Allosaurus.  However, Carcharodontosaurus was four times larger, and found in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Niger.  At around 46 feet long, Carcharodontosaurus was similar in size to yesterday's Giganotosaurus (pronounced jig-a-NOTE-o-saur-us), and longer than Tyrannosaurus, though Tyrannosaurus was undoubtedly much bulkier.  Regardless, Carcharodontosaurus was a monster-sized killer, and almost certainly had a monster-sized appetite to match.  It is almost a certainty that such an animal would have a fairly large territory, and would have needed to eat a great deal to maintain its fast metabolism, similar to your average teenage dude.

Clearly, such a large predator had little competition from other carnivorous dinosaurs.  Or did it?  As a matter of fact, 95 MYA, North Africa was home to not one, but two monster-sized killers, Carcharodontosaurus, and the even longer, 50 foot (15 meter) Spinosaurus.  (Some not so conservative estimates even place the maximum size for Spinosaurus as 60 feet (18 meters) in length, but this does seem extreme.)

Now, in the modern day, predators can inhabit the same area.  Take the plains of Africa, for example; in many places, lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas all inhabit the same area.  There is a clear hierarchy amongst the animals, and each seems to get enough to eat.  However, this is partly because each animal exploits a slightly different set of resources, so contact amongst them is less frequent than if all five of the large carnivores all hunted the same animal, say, the Thomson's Gazelle.  This is a phenomenon known as resource partitioning, and it occurs all over the place in nature, arguably one of the most important factors involving ecology and evolution. Scientists believe that a similar sort of partitioning took place between the two mega-carnivores of Mid-Cretaceous North Africa, with Carcharodontosaurus being a terrestrial carnivore, while Spinosaurus took to the water.  We will conclude "The Biggest Carnivorous Dinosaur" trilogy tomorrow with a look at the environment Spinosaurus was able to so successfully exploit.
A fantastic visual representation of resource partitioning amongst large herbivorous mammals in Africa.  The giraffe, the zebra, and the wildebeest will all inhabit the same area and eat plants, but the types of plants can differ.  Photo Credit: Ted and Gail Neher

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I liked the humor about teenage boys eating the same amount of meat as Carcharodontosaurus ;). I'm glad you touched upon how the predators lived in the same area too, very interesting. Keep up the good work.

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