A new study by paleontologists at the University of Southampton suggests that the 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 on land and in water.
Loot of bones was discovered on the beach near Brighstone over a period of several years. Keen-eyed fossil collectors first found parts of two skulls, and a Dinosaur Isle Museum crew recovered much of a tail. In total, more than 50 bones from the site have been found in rocks that are part of the Wessex Formation, deposited over 125 million years ago in the early Cretaceous.
The only spinosaurid skeleton previously discovered in the UK belonged to Baryonyx, which was originally discovered in 1983 in a quarry in Surrey. Most of the other discoveries since have been limited to isolated teeth and isolated bones.
Bone analysis 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, a doctoral student at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said: âWe discovered that the skulls not only differ from Baryonyx, but also 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. âWe have known for twenty years 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, “noted co-author Darren Naish, British theropod dinosaur expert.
The first specimen was named Ceratosuchops inferodios, which translates to “hell heron with horned crocodile face”. With a series of low horns and bumps adorning the brow 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 capture aquatic prey at the edge of streams, but their diet is much more flexible than is commonly believed and can include terrestrial prey as well.
The second was named Riparovenator milnerae. It translates to âthe hunter of Milner’s shore,â in honor of esteemed British paleontologist Angela Milner, recently deceased. Dr Milner had previously studied and appointed Baryonyx – a major paleontological event whose discovery has considerably improved our understanding of these distinctive predators.
Dr David Hone, Co-author of Queen Mary University in London: âIt 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, the researchers believe that the two Ceratosuchops and Riparovenator were about nine meters long, catching prey with their one-meter-long skulls. The study also suggested how spinosaurids first evolved in Europe, before dispersing to Asia, Africa and South America.
Dr Neil J. Gostling of the University of Southampton, who oversaw the project, said: âThis work 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 on 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 the remains of scorched wood can be seen all over the cliffs today. With a large river and other bodies of water attracting dinosaurs and home to various fish, sharks, and crocodiles, the habitat provided the newly discovered spinosaurids with plenty of hunting opportunities.
Yorkshire fossil collector Brian Foster, who made significant contributions to the finds and publication, said: “This is the rarest and most exciting find I have made in over 30 years of collecting fossils. ” Another collector Jeremy Lockwood, who lives on the Isle of Wight and has discovered several bones, added: âWe realized after the discovery of the two muzzles that this would be something rare and unusual. other parts of this huge puzzle at the museum. “
Dr Martin Munt, curator of the Dinosaur Isle Museum, explained how these new findings solidify the Isle of Wight’s status as one of the best places for dinosaur remains in Europe. The project has also strengthened the way collectors, museums and universities can work together to bring fossil specimens to light.
Dr Munt added: âOn behalf of the museum, I would like to express our gratitude to collectors, including colleagues at the museum, who made these amazing finds and made them available for scientific research. We also congratulate the team who worked on and published these exciting findings. “
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.