Two new species of large predatory dinosaurs discovered on Isle of Wight, UK
A new study by paleontologists from the University of Southampton suggests bones found on the Isle of Wight belong to two new species of spinosaurids, a group of predatory theropod dinosaurs closely related to the giant Spinosaurus. Their unusual crocodile-like skulls helped the group expand their diet, allowing them to hunt prey both on land and in water.
The loot of bones was discovered on the beach near Brightstone over a period of years. Keen-eyed fossil collectors first found parts of two skulls, and a team from the Dinosaur Isle Museum recovered a large portion of a tail. In total, more than 50 bones from the site were discovered in rocks that are part of the Wessex Formation, laid down more than 125 million years ago during the early Cretaceous.
The only spinosaurid skeleton previously unearthed in the UK belonged to Baryonyx, which was originally discovered in 1983 in a quarry in Surrey. Most other discoveries since have been limited to isolated teeth and single bones.
Analysis of the bones carried out at the University of Southampton and published in Scientific reports suggested that they belonged to species of dinosaurs previously unknown to science.
Chris Barker, PhD student at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said: “We found that the skulls differed not only from Baryonyxbut also from each other, suggesting that the UK was home to a greater diversity of spinosaurids than previously thought.”
The discovery of spinosaurid dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight was long in coming. “We have known for a few decades now that Baryonyx-like expected dinosaurs discovered on the Isle of Wight, but finding the remains of two of these animals in close succession was a huge surprise,” remarked co-author Darren Naish, a British theropod dinosaur expert.
The first specimen bears the name Ceratosuchops inferodios, which translates to “the horned crocodile-headed heron of hell”. With a series of low horns and bumps adorning the forehead region, the name also refers to the predator’s likely hunting style, which is said to be similar to that of a (terrifying) heron. Herons catch aquatic prey near waterways, but their diet is much more flexible than commonly thought and can also include terrestrial prey.
The second was called Riparovenator milnerae. This translates to “Milner’s Shorehunter”, in honor of the recently deceased British paleontologist Angela Milner. Dr. Milner had previously studied and named Baryonyx — a major paleontological event whose discovery has greatly improved our understanding of these distinctive predators.
Dr David Hone, co-author from Queen Mary University of London: “It may seem strange to have two similar and closely related carnivores in an ecosystem, but it is actually very common for dinosaurs and many living ecosystems .”
Although the skeletons are incomplete, researchers believe that the two Ceratosuchops and Repairman measuring around nine meters in length, catching prey with their meter-long skulls. The study also suggested how spinosaurids might have first evolved in Europe, before dispersing to Asia, Africa and South America.
Dr Neil J. Gostling of the University of Southampton, who supervised the project, said: “This work has brought together universities, the Dinosaur Isle Museum and the public to reveal these incredible dinosaurs and the incredibly diverse ecology of the south coast of England 125 million years ago.”
The Lower Cretaceous rocks of the Isle of Wight describe an ancient floodplain environment bathed in a Mediterranean-like climate. Although generally mild, forest fires have occasionally ravaged the landscape, and remnants of burnt wood can be seen through the cliffs today. With a large river and other water bodies that attracted dinosaurs and harbored various fish, sharks, and crocodiles, the habitat offered the newly discovered spinosaurids plenty of hunting opportunities.
Fossil collector Brian Foster from Yorkshire, who made a significant contribution to the finds and to the publication, said: “This is the rarest and most exciting find I have made in over 30 years of collecting. of fossils.” Another collector, Jeremy Lockwood, who lives on the Isle of Wight and discovered several bones, added: “We realized after the discovery of the two snouts that it would be something rare and unusual. Then it became more and more amazing as several collectors found and donated other parts of this huge puzzle to the museum.”
Dr Martin Munt, curator of the Dinosaur Isle Museum, noted how these new findings cement the Isle of Wight’s status as one of the best places for dinosaur remains in Europe. The project has also strengthened how collectors, museums and universities can work together to bring fossil specimens to light.
Dr Munt added: “On behalf of the museum, I would like to express our gratitude to the collectors, including museum colleagues, who made these amazing discoveries and made them available for scientific research. We also commend the team that worked on these exciting findings and brought them to publication.”
Video illustrating newly discovered dinosaurs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3gUECD7axs&t=7s
The new fossils will be on display at the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown.