Four bones discovered on the Isle of Wight are believed to belong to a species of theropod dinosaur that was previously unknown to science. Thought to be a relative to the world-famous T. Rex, the new species is believed to have been around 4 meters (13 feet) long and roamed the Earth 115 million years ago.
The discovery, published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology, describes four fossils that were handed to the Sandown Dinosaur Isle Museum by those who found them. One such fossil hunter was Robin Ward, who was on a family holiday when he found one of the mysterious remains.
"The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic,” he said in a statement. “I thought they were special and so took them along when we visited Dinosaur Isle Museum. They immediately knew these were something rare and asked if we could donate them to the museum to be fully researched."
His find joined three others handed in by fellow fossil enthusiasts, which were later studied by paleontologists from the University of Southampton. After close inspection, the researchers realized they were looking at a completely new genus of dinosaur.
"We were struck by just how hollow this animal was – it's riddled with air spaces,” said Chris Barker, a PhD student at the university. “Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate.”
The species has been named Vectaerovenator inopinatus and joins the T. rex and modern birds in a group known as the theropods. These animals are characterized by their pneumatic bones, which contain air sacs as an extension of the lung, facilitating oxygen flow and making for light skeletons. This was a vital step in the direction of birds taking flight.
It’s thought V. inopinatus must have lived to the north of Shanklin where the fossils were found and later washed there in the shallow sea. The deposits at Shanklin were laid down as a marine environment so while fossilized oysters and driftwood are common in the area, finding dinosaur remains is rare.
"Although we have enough material to be able to determine the general type of dinosaur, we'd ideally like to find more to refine our analysis,” Barker said. “We are very grateful for the donation of these fossils to science and for the important role that citizen science can play in palaeontology."