Facts About Baryonyx

Everything You Need to Know About the Famous Fish-Eating Dinosaur

The type fossil of Baryonyx (Wikimedia Commons).

Baryonyx is a relatively recent addition to the dinosaur bestiary, and one that (despite its popularity) is still poorly understood. Here are 10 facts you may or may not have known about Baryonyx.

Baryonyx Was Discovered in 1983...

Considering how well-known it is, it's remarkable that Baryonyx was excavated only a few decades ago, well after the "golden age" of dinosaur discovery. This theropod's "type fossil" was discovered in England by the amateur fossil hunter William Walker; the first thing he noticed was a single claw, which pointed the way to a near-complete skeleton buried nearby.

...and Its Name Is Greek for "Heavy Claw."

Not surprisingly, Baryonyx (pronounced bah-RYE-oh-nicks) was named in reference to that prominent claw--which, however, had nothing to do with the prominent claws of another family of carnivorous dinosaurs, the raptors. Rather than a raptor, Baryonyx was a type of theropod closely related to Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus (about which more below).

Baryonyx Spent Its Day Hunting for Fish...

The snout of Baryonyx was unlike that of most theropod dinosaurs: long and narrow, with rows of studded teeth. This has led paleontologists to conclude that Baryonyx prowled the edges of lakes and rivers, plucking fish out of the water. (Want more proof? Fossilized remnants of the prehistoric fish Lepidotes have been found in Baryonyx's stomach!)

...Which It Snagged with the Oversized Claws on Its Thumbs

The piscivorous (fish-eating) diet of Baryonyx points to the function of the oversized claws this dinosaur was named after: rather than using these scary-looking appendages to disembowel herbivorous dinosaurs (like its raptor cousins), Baryonyx dipped its longer-than-usual arms in the water and speared passing, wriggling fish.

Baryonyx Was a Close Relative of Spinosaurus

As mentioned above, the western European Baryonyx was closely related to three African dinosaurs--Suchomimus, Carcharodontosaurus and the truly enormous Spinosaurus--as well as the South American Irritator. All of these theropods were distinguished by their narrow, crocodile-like snouts, though only Spinosaurus sported a sail along its backbone.

The Remains of Baryonyx Have Been Found All Over Europe

As so often happens in paleontology, the identification of Baryonyx in 1983 laid the groundwork for future fossil discoveries. Additional specimens of Baryonyx were later unearthed in Spain and Portugal, and this dinosaur's debut prompted the re-examination of a forgotten trove of fossils from England, yielding yet another specimen.

Baryonyx Had Almost Twice as Many Teeth as T. Rex...

Granted, the teeth of Baryonyx weren't nearly as impressive as those of its fellow theropod, Tyrannosaurus Rex. As small as they were, though, Baryonyx's choppers were much more numerous, 64 relatively small teeth embedded in its lower jaw and 32 relatively bigger ones in its upper jaw (compared to about 60 total for T. Rex).

...and Its Jaws Were Angled to Keep Prey from Wriggling Free

As any fisherman will tell you, catching a trout is the easy part; keeping it from wriggling out of your hands is much harder. Like other fish-eating animals (including some birds and crocodiles), the jaws of Baryonyx were shaped so as to minimize the possibility that its hard-won meal could wriggle out of its mouth and flop back into the water.

Baryonyx Lived During the Early Cretaceous Period

Baryonyx and its "spinosaur" cousins shared one important characteristic: they all lived during the early to middle Cretaceous period, about 110 to 100 million years ago, rather than the late Cretaceous, like most other discovered theropod dinosaurs. It's anyone's guess as to why these long-snouted dinosaurs didn't survive up until the K/T Extinction event 65 million years ago.

Baryonyx May One Day Be Renamed "Suchosaurus"

Remember the day when Brontosaurus was suddenly renamed Apatosaurus? That same fate may yet befall Baryonyx. It turns out that an obscure dinosaur named Suchosaurus ("crocodile lizard"), discovered in the middle 19th century, may actually have been a specimen of Baryonyx; if this is confirmed, the name Suchosaurus would take precedence in the dinosaur record books.