A giant crocodile-faced dinosaur, discovered on the Isle of Wight by one of Britain’s top fossil hunters, was probably the largest predator to ever stalk Europe, scientists said on Thursday.
Most of the bones of the two-legged spinosaurid were found by late local collector Nick Chase, who dedicated his life to searching the beaches of the island on the south coast of England for dinosaur remains.
Researchers from the University of Southampton then used the few available bones to identify what they called the “White Rock spinosaurid”, they said in a study published in the journal PeerJ.
“It was an enormous animal, exceeding 10 meters (33 feet) in length and judging by some dimensions probably represents the largest predatory dinosaur ever found in Europe,” said Chris Barker, a Ph.D. student who led the study.
While admitting it would be better to have more bones, Barker told AFP that “the numbers don’t lie, it’s bigger than the largest known specimen” previously found in Europe.
Thomas Richard Holtz, a University of Maryland vertebrate paleontologist not involved in the study, agreed that the new find “appears to be larger” than a huge predator whose fossilized remains were discovered in Portugal.
Matt Lamanna, a dinosaur paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the US, praised the “excellent in-depth study of the specimen” given the lack of bones, but said it was difficult to compare sizes.
For example, he said that the largest known spinosaurid, Spinosaurus, was probably the longest of these dinosaurs “but it was probably not as heavy” as Tyrannosaurus rex or Giganotosaurus – “the latter is about to become super famous thanks to the new movie ‘Jurassic World'”.
Why the elongated face?
The White Rock spinosaurid – which researchers hope to officially name as a new species – dates from the early Cretaceous and is estimated to be around 125 million years old.
Barker said this makes it the youngest spinosaurid found in Britain, two or three million years younger than the famous Baryonyx.
Spinosaurids are known for their elongated heads. Rather than having the square skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex, their face looks more like that of a crocodile.
A leading theory to explain this trait is that they hunted in water as well as on land.
“They’re kind of like storks and herons, wading around and catching fish on the surface,” Barker said.
The White Rock spinosaurid was discovered in a coastal lagoon environment where few dinosaur fossils are normally found.
“It helps to start to paint a picture of what the animals were experiencing at the time, which is a very poorly understood part of England’s paleontological heritage,” Barker added.
The team had previously identified two new spinosaurid species on the Isle of Wight, including Ceratosuchops inferodios, nicknamed the “heron from hell”.
“This new animal reinforces our previous argument – published last year – that spinosaurid dinosaurs originated and diversified in Western Europe before spreading,” said study co-author Darren Naish.
The “strange ability” of the collector
Paleontologists paid tribute to Chase, who always donated the bones he found to museums.
“Most of these amazing fossils were discovered by Nick Chase, one of Britain’s most skilled dinosaur hunters, who sadly died just before the COVID outbreak,” the co-author said. study, Jeremy Lockwood, Ph.D. student at the University of Portsmouth.
Barker said Chase’s “incredible ability” to find bones showed that “it’s not just professional paleontologists who impact the discipline.”
The discovery “highlights that collectors have a great role to play in modern paleontology and that their generosity helps advance science,” he added.
And if there were aspiring fossil hunters hoping to pick up where Chase left off, paleontologists would welcome more spinosaurid bones from White Rock.
“We’re hoping a passerby can pick up a few pieces and donate them,” Barker said.
Europe’s largest land predator found on Isle of Wight
Chris T. Barker et al, A European Giant: A Large Spinosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous), UK, PeerJ (2022). DOI: 10.7717/peerj.13543
© 2022 AFP
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