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The Largest Predator To Ever Walk The Earth Was 'Unlike Any Other Dinosaur'

<p>ART: DAVIDE BONADONNA, via <a class="checked-link" href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/10/spinosaurus/mueller-text">October edition of National Geographic magazine</a>, showcasing <a class="checked-link" href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/10/spinosaurus/hettwer-photography"><em>Spinosaurus</em>, the largest land predator to ever stalk the earth</a> </p>

Spinosaurus - an ancient dino super-predator almost twice as long as a Venetian gondola - is making a big splash.

After analyzing Spinosaurus fossils recently found in Morocco, an international group of paleontologists uncovered several new aquatic adaptations, the researchers reported in the journal Science on Thursday.

"Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space," says Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and an author of the study, in a statement. "It's unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen."

These alien traits include hooked claws and interlocking teeth for snagging slippery food, nostrils high like an alligator's and short legs and hips best suited for water. "We see limb proportions like this in early whales, not predatory dinosaurs," says study co-author Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago dino expert. And at almost 50 feet long - the largest predator to ever wade through a river - the Spinosaurus must have been a terrifying sight for prehistoric fish.

The BBC's Planet Dinosaur highlights a showdown between Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus - but Spinosaurus may have been more at home cruising through a river. (YouTube)

But paleontologists have known about Spinosaurus' watery ways for years, writes Brian Switek at National Geographic:

And geochemical evidence from spinosaur teeth further supported the notion that these carnivores stuck close to freshwater habitats. As paleontologist Thomas Holtz, Jr. has pointed out, spinosaurs were likely the dinosaurian equivalent of grizzly bears.

In the same way that grizzly bears aren't the only mammals who hunt on water and land, Spinosaurus wasn't the only aquatic dinosaur. Fossilized "swim tracks" point to smaller predators taking a dip in search of prey, too.

It's been 65 million years since the dinosaurs had a good day, but the past two weeks - with the discovery of the scientifically "bad ass" giant herbivore Dreadnoughtus - have been exciting times for understanding these terrible lizards.

Spinosaurus is the star of a new exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., opening Sept. 12, as well as a National Geographic/NOVA special airing on PBS Nov. 5 at 9 p.m.