The remains of one of Europe’s largest ever land-based predator dinosaurs have been discovered in the United Kingdom, scientists said Thursday.
The two-legged, crocodile-faced beast known as a spinosaurid lived 125 million years ago, paleontologists at Britain's University of Southampton said, after they found several prehistoric bones from its skeleton on the Isle of Wight, a small island off England's south coast.
“This was a huge animal,” Chris Barker, a doctoral student who led the study, said in a news release, adding that it was almost 33 feet long and several tons in weight.
“Judging from some of the dimensions, it appears to represent one of the largest predatory dinosaurs ever found in Europe — maybe even the biggest yet known,” he said.
The team dubbed its find the “white rock spinosaurid” because bones from the creature's back, hips, tail and limbs were found in the geographical layer known as white rock.
“Because it’s only known from fragments at the moment, we haven’t given it a formal scientific name” said Darren Naish, a paleontologist who co-authored the study. “We hope that additional remains will turn up in time,” he added.
“Coastal environments don’t preserve things well, so any find helps us to understand the dinosaurs around that time,” Neil Gostling, who supervised the project, said by email Friday.
The spinosaurid would have stalked lagoons and sand flats in search of food and it would have relied on fish as a significant part of its diet, the study said.
Marks on the bones, including networks of tunnels bored into the pelvis, suggest that the skeleton became food for scavengers and decomposers after death, it added.
“It’s an interesting thought that this giant killer wound up becoming a meal for a host of insects,” said Jeremy Lockwood, a doctoral student at the University of Portsmouth who took part in the study.
The spinosaurid family may have emerged in Europe around 150 million years ago, Barker said, adding that the creature found by the team was “probably the youngest British spinosaur so far discovered, expanding the temporal range of the family.”
The team said the next step will be to examine thin sections of the dinosaur’s bone under a microscope to get a better sense of its growth rate and its age.
But in the long term, Barker said, he hoped that the material will be cleared for full public display.