Researchers from the University of Portsmouth, University of Manchester and National Museum Wales have discovered a new species of dinosaur believed to be the oldest known Jurassic-period creature of its kind ever discovered in the UK, a new PLOS One study has revealed.
The new species, which was discovered in southern Wales, was named Dracoraptor hanigani, a name selected to honor the country’s national symbol, the dragon, the research team explained in a statement. The first part of the name, Dracoraptor, means “dragon robber,” while the hanigani part was selected to recognize the men who discovered the fossils, Nick and Rob Hanigan.
Lead author and Portsmouth paleobiologist Dr. David Martill and his colleagues reported in their study that they had recovered approximately 40 percent of the new dinosaur’s skeleton, including its cranial and postcranial remains, and that it was a new kind of basal neotheropod dinosaur.
Analysis of the bones, which were originally discovered in 2014 on a beach near Penarth, Wales, found that Dracoraptor hanigani was likely a carnivorous theropod, and since its bones were not yet fully formed or fused, it is probable that it was a juvenile. The creature would only have been about 28 inches tall and 79 inches long, with a long tail for balance, the authors said.
Authors hope discovery will shed new light on dinosaur evolution
Based on their analysis of the fossils, Dr. Martill and his colleagues have placed Dracoraptor hanigani at the beginning of the Jurassic Period, about 201 million years ago. These fossils are the most complete theropod ever discovered in Wales, according to the researchers, and could even be among the oldest known Jurassic dinosaurs in the UK, or even the world.
“The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance,” said co-author Steven Vidovic, Dr. Martill’s colleague at the University of Portsmouth. “Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two meter long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales.”
According to the Telegraph, one of the fossils, a foot bone, was discovered in part due to a case of good timing, as the paleontology student that found it did so shortly after it was exposed by a cliff fall but before it was washed away by tides. Any sooner, and it is unlikely that the student would have spotted it; any later, and it likely would have been lost to the River Severn.
“[Student Sam Davies’] discovery of the foot of Dracoraptor on the Severn estuary really was the most remarkable and serendipitous discovery,” Dr. Martill said to the newspaper on Wednesday. He added that the foot bone, as well as the rest of the newfound specimen, is currently on display at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff.
“It’s pretty rare to discover a completely new dinosaur species – in fact this is only the fourth one to be discovered in the UK since 1980, so it’s very special,” co-author Dr. John Nudds, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, told the Telegraph. “The fact that it comes from so early in the Jurassic Period, when theropod dinosaurs were evolving rapidly, makes it even more valuable to science, and will hopefully tell us a lot about dinosaur evolution at this time.”