Spinosaurus first meets human eyes in 1912. Its bones rise from the penny-hued sandstone, nestled between guavas and petroleum reserves. The dinosaur is named for its unique neural projections growing from its vertebrae. Springing up to almost six feet, the animal carries an understory, a back full of calcium-carbonate saplings.
Carve out a lumbering girth, kangaroo-postured, jaws like a bull terrier. Serrated incisors slice into equally ungainly prey. The spines are covered with skin to form a fleshy sail, allowing it to thermoregulate, slog faster than other dinosaurs. Grey-green scales bleed into the muck of its swampy home, as if it were something raised directly from the wetland clay.
Only a handful of fossils of Spinosaurus survive to the modern age. There is more documentation of the abyssal plains of the ocean and the twirl of sub-particles as they collide into each other.
Grab the nose, grab the tail, knock Spinosaurus horizontal and give it a ram-rod straight body. Free it from the water that it needed to hold up its massive body. Give it crocodile-like jaws to snatch flying pterosaurs right out of the air as if they were rogue popcorn escaping a pan.
The sail no longer warms the body but speaks, a parka repurposed into an evening gown. The coastline is full of these Mesozoic billboards. A living advertisement of strength, letting potential mates know how natural selection has reached out her hand to them, marking them and their offspring with genetic protection, perfection. Vitality broadcast in scales the color of flamenco dresses.
Spinosaurus stars in action movies terrorizing T-rex and humans alike. Museum dioramas filled with fiberglass display bones. It sits on a child’s shelf, a monster in miniature, resting hominid fashion thanks to new, rotatable legs. The sail is so satisfying for toddlers to nibble on, cutting their advanced, heterodontic teeth. The first testings of their own evolutionary progress.
Shrink it down smaller than a child’s toy, small enough that the dinosaur can rest within the furrows of your palm. Now even smaller, so it nestles safely amongst molecules of carbon and phosphate. Here’s where it hides to this day. A deoxyribic ghost, an evolutionary stowaway in the feathers of the shearwater, the song of the warbler. It becomes a thing that flies and croaks, buzzes and preens. Mounted, eaten, shot, plucked and tucked into the bands of hats because it is too beautiful not to.
Kick the Spinosaurus’ legs from under it. Do it so hard they crumple, forcing it back into the water. Its nostrils now sit on top of its skull; all the better for to accommodate floating. Spinosaurus is redesigned as the first known swimming dinosaur. Now it’ll eat fish, coelacanth stains on teeth that last millions of years later.
The animal is really only known from a few sketches taken of the first sample. Not even all the sketches that were made, just the few that survived the years. The rest, along with the 1912 bones, are destroyed in the Allied bombings of Germany in WWII.
It is the first to sense the planes. It smells the oil, the plants and animals and land of its home compressed, melted. All the dull-eyed hadrosaurus and vengeful sharks it had consumed. It wonders how this could happen. It could survive millions of years, the six miles of extraterrestrial stone that carved open the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous, the drifting of the world, all to be destroyed by the ancestors of the smallest, weakest things of its time.
Sigilmassasaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, Baryonx, Irritator, Suchomimus, babies, elders. Take a piece and stitch it together. There’s so little left over the eons we have to reach into a paleontological grab bag, pull out a pelvis, a forearm, anything will do. Our Spinosaurus may be everything but a Spinosaurus. A painting of a hazy image, like trees seen along the highway, still life at eighty miles-per-hour. A sail is not for warmth nor kin, but a thing that blurs and blurs as we churn forward.
ASHELY ADAMS is currently working towards an MA in writing and literature at Northern Michigan University, where she also works as an associate editor for NMU’s literary journal, Passages North. Ashely received an undergraduate BS in Wildlife Biology from Michigan State University and has worked in several outreach positions, including posts within the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.