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Newly Named Dinosaur Was Europe's Largest Jurassic Predator

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Image: An illustration of Torvosaurus gurneyi in its environment.
The Iberian peninsula was home to several species of theropods, but Torvosaurus gurneyi towered over them all.Sergey Krasovskiy

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A newly identified dinosaur, built like T. Rex and equipped with blade-like teeth and larger arms and claws, was the largest predator in Europe during the late Jurassic period, researchers say.

Torvosaurus gurneyi, the new species, was smaller than tyrannosaurs, and may have lived off a bit of hunting and scavenging 150 million years ago. Christophe Hendrickx, a graduate student at the University of Lisbon, identified T. Gurneyi from pieces of jawbone and a vertebra recovered from a site in Portugal.

After they were found in 2003, the fossils were first identified as a sister theropod species, Torvosaurus tanneri. A closer inspection revealed that this animal had fewer teeth and unique bony protrusions on it jaw.

“It's difficult to know if it’s a predator or a scavenger,” said Hendrickx, who describes the new species along with his colleague Octavio Mateus in the scientific journal Plos One.

A skeleton reconstruction of T. gurneyi.
A skeleton reconstruction of T. gurneyi.Scott Hartman; Carol Abraczinska

Hendrickx named the new dinosaur after James Gurney, a “paleo-artist” who created “Dinotopia,” an illustrated fantasy series first published in 1992, in which humans and dinosaurs co-existed on a remote island.

“I discovered this book when I was a kid,” Hendrickx said.

He’d always hoped he’d get a chance to name a new animal, and when T. gurneyi samples came along, he saw his chance. “I wanted to honor this artist.”

James Gurneyi still gets letters from fans of all ages who read Dinotopia when they were kids.
James Gurneyi still gets letters from fans of all ages who read Dinotopia when they were kids.

A generation ahead, Gurney has been thinking about dinosaurs since he was in school. He drew his first dino sketches after he saw pictures and toy models of the animals as a child. “I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t see them at a zoo,” he told NBC News.

Gurney admits he’s been “called a dinosaur before,” but didn’t expect to lend his name to one.

“Never in a million years,” he said. “I was completely thrilled and honored and completely surprised.”

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