Two new species of dinosaur that may have once roamed what is now the Isle of Wight in the UK 125 million years ago are thought to have been 9 metres long – about the same length as a Stegosaurus – with skulls like crocodiles.
One has been described as a “hell heron”, with scientists likening its hunting style to a fearsome version of the modern-day bird.
A haul of bones was discovered on the beach near Brighstone on the isle over a period of several years, and researchers now say they relate to two new species of spinosaurid, a group of predatory theropod dinosaurs closely related to the giant Spinosaurus.
In all, more than 50 bones from the site have been uncovered from rocks that form part of the Wessex Formation, laid down more than 125 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period.
Neil J. Gostling at the University of Southampton, UK, who supervised the project, said: “This work has brought together universities, the Dinosaur Isle museum and the public to reveal these amazing dinosaurs and the incredibly diverse ecology of the south coast of England 125 million years ago.”
The only spinosaurid skeleton previously unearthed in the UK belonged to Baryonyx, which was initially discovered in 1983 in a quarry in Surrey. Most other finds since have been restricted to isolated teeth and single bones.
Analysis of the Isle of Wight bones suggested they belonged to previously unknown species of dinosaurs. Team member Chris Barker, also at the University of Southampton, said: “We found the skulls to differ not only from Baryonyx, but also one another, suggesting the UK housed a greater diversity of spinosaurids than previously thought.”
The first specimen has been named Ceratosuchops inferodios, which translates as the “horned, crocodile-faced hell heron”.
With a series of low horns and bumps on the brow region, the name also refers to the predator’s likely hunting style, which would have been like that of a heron.
Herons famously catch aquatic prey around the margins of waterways, but their diet is far more flexible than is generally appreciated and can include terrestrial prey too.
The second dinosaur was named Riparovenator milnerae, which translates as “Milner’s riverbank hunter”, in honour of British palaeontologist Angela Milner, who died recently. The new fossils will go on display at the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown on the Isle of Wight.
Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-97870-87e0f25c8-6f71-4fde-b0a3-51ae780d063e
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