The skeleton of a new distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex was discovered jutting out of a beachside cliff in the Vale of Glamorgan. The as-yet-unnamed dino is only about 50 centimeters (20 inches) tall, but it’s got a mouthful of blade-like serrated teeth and razor-sharp claws. It’s the first meat-eating dinosaur ever to be discovered in Wales and one of the earliest Jurassic dinosaurs to be found in the world.
After the storms of spring 2014, brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan spotted the fossils along Lavernock beach near Penarth in Wales. Most of the bones were spread across five blocks of limestone, though some had been scavenged and scattered by prehistoric fish and sea urchins. It lived at a time when south Wales was a coastal region with a warm, Mediterranean-like climate.
The Welsh dinosaur had bones that weren’t fully formed, suggesting that it was likely a juvenile. If it hadn’t died young, it might have grown to be about 80 centimeters (31 inches) tall. The slim, agile dinosaur walked on two legs, with a long tail to help keep it balanced; in total, it would have been about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long. The dino probably boasted a fuzzy coat of simple proto-feathers for insulation and maybe for display. Simple quill-like structures likely helped with defense in addition to claws and lots of teeth.
“The teeth were small, but needle sharp, slightly curved and with the most wonderful steak-knife serrations on their edges,” David Martill from the University of Portsmouth says in a news release. The little predator probably ate insects, small mammals and other reptiles.
This is only the second dino to be discovered in Wales and it lived during the earliest part of the Jurassic, around 201.3 million years ago. “The dinosaur came from strata deposited exactly at the end of the Triassic and the start of the Jurassic,” Martill adds. “We are now convinced it is the first ever Jurassic dinosaur." Dinosaurs were just starting to diversify at that time.
The new species was a theropod (a carnivorous ancestor of today’s birds), and it was related to Coelophysis who lived a couple of hundred million years ago in what is now the American Southwest. It’s also considered to be a distant cousin of what is perhaps the most famous theropod of all, Tyrannosaurus rex, who wouldn’t walk the Earth until much later on. “Theropods were vicious hunters who would prey on others,” University of Manchester’s John Nudds explains. “They were evolving rapidly at the start of the Jurassic period, but are only known from a few specimens worldwide. So this is a very exciting finding that could tell us a lot about how these species were evolving.”
The fossil will be on display at the National Museum Cardiff starting this week and through September of this year.
Images: Bob Nicholls, National Museum of Wales (top), National Museum Cardiff (middle)