Baryonyx BW

Baryonyx Walkeri

Baryonyx NHM

Skeleton cast at the London Natural History Museum

The lush wetlands of Western Europe in the Early Cretaceous Period 130-120 Million Years Ago, provided the stunning setting for one of the most terrifying carnivorous animals ever to set foot in Europe. This was a 10-11 metre long Spinosaurid, called Baryonyx. Its remains have been found in England and France. Its very name, means, 'Heavy Claw', a reference to the huge smoothly curving, thick and heavy (yet sharp pointed) larger claws on the clawed hands of the Baryonyx. The other digits had smaller, typically sized claws, with the considerably larger single claws on what we would regard as our index fingers. The size and shape of these main claws, and their relation to the other claws, indicates that they were for grappling large prey items, and were adapted to withstand stresses from various angles. They must have had a special function, for them to be so much larger than the other claws on each hand. Baryonyx has therefore been speculated as to have been a specialist hunter; perhaps adapted to attacking large freshwater fish and possibly other creatures of the Early Cretaceous rivers and lakes. This is not a theory without some firm ground to stand on; it must be noted that Baryonyx lived in a wetland habitant, and that at this time there was a plently to be found within the moist climate, without a Dinosaur having to adapt to bring down more dangerous prey. In fact, the last meal of one Baryonyx specimen has even been fossilised within its own skeletal remains - the clear remains of jumbled up fragmentary fish bones and particularly many diamond shaped fish scales. These are identified as being from the large freshwater fish, Lepidotes, which was massively successful and widespread during the Early Cretaceous Period in particular. This fish could grow to a metre in length, possibly growing to over 2 metres at largest. Without a doubt, Baryonyx must have been a form of piscivore (predator of fish) However, it is very important to note that whilst this Spinosaurid indeed hunted and ate large freshwater fish, this does not neccessarily mean that Baryonyx never hunted and ate anything else. It is unlikely that a Theropod of its size would have only predated fish, and only have used what must have been great biomechanical strength to hunt fish (though in fairness very large and doubtless feisty ones) alone. Palaeontologists generally accept that Baryonyx, was a generalist; a hunter of fish and land based prey (such as herbivorous Dinosaurs of course) Some disagree, though it is rather illogical to do so, seeing as this is a 33 foot Spinosaurid in question here, which is a daunting monster when compared with a human. Baryonyx, by any reasonable account, most probably did specialise in hunting fish, but would have certainly attacked land based animals for additional supplement, if not for about half the diet. A neat way of putting it, would be that Baryonyx was the Grizzly Bear of Dinosaurs - predominantly a fish hunter, but also a dangerous and deadly carnivore of anything it can tackle on land! Herbivorous Ornithopod Dinosaurs were most likely the main land based prey items. The hugely abundant and widespread Iguanodon (in various subspecies) and its Iguanodontid relatives, would have been prime targets. However, this is only as juveniles, as full grown Iguanodon could reach the same length as Baryonyx! - hardly an easy target for a Baryonyx to realistically take on and beat every feeding time. It would have attacked small babies, adolescents or even up to sub-adult specimens, likely only ever taking on full grown Iguanodon when they were critically ill or weak with old age, quite rarely. Smaller herbivores, such as the skittish and hard to catch (due to their small size and sheer agility) Hypsilophodontids, would have also been on the menu - even if only as rare delicacies. Baryonyx, would have been a truly awesome reptile in life, standing almost 3-4 metres at the shoulder, and with teeth that size of knives. It must have been an odd sight too, appearing more crocodilian in physiology and behaviour, than more typical Theropod Dinosaurs, such as the 'plain' herbivorous Dinosaur hunter, Megalosaurus (which lived before the Cretaceous, but provides a good example) Baryonyx is not very well known to the public - not even to the British public, even though Baryonyx was first discovered in clay pits, in Dorking, England in 1983, by 'amateur' british fossil hunter, William Walker. Walker found the iconic claw along with a few other bones, and thus contacted the Palaeontology department at the world renowed and highly esteemed London Natural History Museum, for expert excavation. Palaeontologists Angela Milner and Alan Charig, led a team, which eventually recovered 70% of the remains. Baryonyx has triggered extensive investigation, and has generated much disturbance within Palaeontology, being the first known Piscivore (albeit a part time one) Such surprises keeps the excitement of Palaeontology going strong.