An enormous crocodile-headed, spiny-backed dinosaur that prowled what is now England about 125 million years ago was one of the largest predators ever to have swept across Europe.
Paleontologists have unearthed the remains of this behemoth on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. The researchers nicknamed the newly discovered species “White Rock spinosaurid,” after the chalky geologic layer found on the island where it was discovered. Since the scientists have only excavated bits of fossils, the animal has yet to be given an official scientific name.
The fragments are the youngest spinosaurid fossils ever found in the UK, according to a new study, published June 9 in the journal PeerJ Life and Environment† Spinosaurids were bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs with crocodile-like skulls, slender necks and stout arms, and they lived during the Cretaceous Period (145 million to 66 million years ago). The new species is closely related to the older, possibly amphibious spinosauruswhich was greater than Tyrannosaurus Rex and had a large, flattened sail extending from its back.
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Spinosaurids are somewhat mysterious because few fossils of the group have been discovered. Scientists suspect the creatures hunted in lakes, rivers and lagoons, but how they conquered their quarry is a matter of debate. Some paleontologists have proposed that spinosaurids actively swam after their prey (opens in new tab), which propel themselves by wagging their large tails like modern crocodiles do. Other experts suggest the monsters acted more like herons, wading through the lagoons and… put their long jaws in the water to catch fish† Regardless, the creatures were huge, and the newly discovered White Rock spinosaurid was one of the largest.
”This was a huge animal, more than 10m [33 feet] in length, and judging by some of the dimensions, [it] represents probably the largest predatory dinosaur ever found in Europe,” lead author Chris Barker, a paleontologist at the University of Southampton in England, said in a statement† “It’s just a shame that so little material is known about it.”
Researchers discovered the ancient monster’s fossils, including giant pelvic and tail vertebrae, in Cretaceous rocks at Compton Chine, a geological feature along the southwest coast of the Isle of Wight. The fossils were preserved in a rocky structure known as the Vectis Formation, which began forming 125 million years ago when deposits from rising sea levels entered the site of a freshwater coastal lagoon. It was across these lagoon waters and sandbars that the White Rock spinosaurid roamed in search of prey, the study authors reported.
This isn’t the first spinosaurid these researchers have discovered on the Isle of Wight. In 2021 the team described two new spinosaurid species – the “riverside hunter” Riparovenator milnerae and the “heron” Ceratosuchops inferodios — Live Science previously reported. The riverbank skua and hell-heron were smaller than their cousin the spinosaurid White Rock, reaching a length of about 9 meters. These three discoveries bring the number of spinosaurids discovered in the UK to four – the other being the terrifyingly clawed Baryonyx†
The researchers say the discovery of the White Rock spinosaurid confirms their claim, first made when they described the previous two spinosaurid species, that this group of dinosaurs initially evolved in Europe before spreading across Asia and the supercontinent Gondwana. which was later split into Africa and South America.
The giant dinosaur may have been Europe’s largest land predator, but it also ended up being a dinner of something else. Marks on the bones suggest that the giant’s carcass was plucked by other hungry Cretaceous beasts.
“Most of these amazing fossils were found by Nick Chase, one of Britain’s most skilled dinosaur hunters, who sadly died just before the COVID epidemic,” said study co-author Jeremy Lockwood, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth. in the statement. “I was looking for remains of this dinosaur with Nick and found a piece of pelvis with tunnels drilled into it, each about the size of my index finger. We think they were caused by bone-eating larvae or some type of scavenger beetle. It’s an interesting one. thought that this giant killer eventually became a meal for a multitude of insects.”
The researchers hope to learn more about the fallen giant by taking thin sections of its bones and studying them under the microscope. This should allow them to learn more about how fast the spinosaurid grew and how old it may have been when it died, the study authors said.
Originally published on Live Science.