Fossilised bones, discovered on a Brighstone beach, belong to two previously undiscovered species of dinosaur, according to scientists from Southampton University.
The creatures roamed the Isle of Wight over 125 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous period, and had unusual crocodile-like skulls that allowed them to hunt prey both on land and in water.
Although the skeletons are incomplete, both creatures are estimated to have been around 30 feet long, and they snapped up prey with their three-foot-long skulls. Both were closely related to the giant Spinosaurus.
The finds are attracting world-wide interest after a study was published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study suggested how the dinosaurs might have evolved in Europe, before dispersing into Asia, Africa and South America. Around 50 bones have been found so far on the Island over several years, including the parts of two skulls. A large part of a tail was also recovered by a team from the Dinosaur Isle Museum.
One has been named descriptively as the ‘horned crocodile-faced hell heron’ (Ceratosuchops inferodios), because of the shape of its head, with low bumps and horns and, like herons, it ate both aquatic and land-based prey. The other has been named ‘Milner’s riverbank hunter’ (Riparovenator milnerae) after British palaeontologist Angela Milner, who discovered a related dinosaur, Baryonyx, in Surrey in 1983. She recently passed away.
An Island fossil collector, who discovered several of the bones, Jeremy Lockwood, said: “We realised after the two snouts were found that this would be something rare and unusual. Then it just got more and more amazing as several collectors found and donated other parts of this enormous jigsaw to the museum.”
Dr Martin Munt, curator of the Dinosaur Isle Museum where the new finds will be displayed, said they cemented the Island’s status as one of the top locations for dinosaur remains in Europe and highlighted how collectors, academics and museums work together on new finds.
Dr Munt added: “I wish to express our gratitude to the collectors, including colleagues at the museum, who have made these amazing finds, and made them available for scientific research. We also congratulate the team who have worked on these exciting finds and brought them to publication.”
Co-author of the report, Darren Naish, a dinosaur expert, said that he’d been hoping for a discovery like this for a couple of decades, but finding two in close succession was a “huge surprise”.
The Early Cretaceous rocks on the Island indicate that the area was an ancient floodplain environment, bathed in a Mediterranean-like climate. Whilst generally balmy, forest fires occasionally ravaged the landscape, and the remains of burnt wood can be seen throughout the cliffs today.