SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom — A dinosaur unearthed on the Isle of Wight may have been the largest land predator that ever roamed across Europe during prehistoric times. Scientists say it was a cross between the T-Rex and a great white shark — capable of hunting both on land and in the water.
The terrifying creature had a face like a crocodile, razor-sharp teeth and claws, and a whip-like tail. Fossils reveal the creature was likely as big as a school bus — measuring over 33 feet long and weighing more than five tons.
The fossilized bones include large pelvic and tail vertebrae amongst other pieces. Researchers dug up the remains near Compton Chine on the island’s southwest coast. They date back 125 million years, to a period of rising sea levels.
The bipedal beast had short arms, just like the T-Rex. Stalking lagoons and sandflats, study authors believe its bone-crushing jaws snapped large fish and even other dinosaurs in half.
It was a member of the spinosaurids, meaning “spine lizard.” They were the first dinosaurs which could swim. Bones grew on their backs to form what scientists refer to as a “sail.” This feature could grow up to seven feet in length, connected by skin.
Another treasure on ‘Dinosaur Island’
Lead author Chris Barker, a paleontology student at the University of Southampton, believes the creature was a killer of immense proportions.
“This was a huge animal, exceeding 10 m in length, and judging from some of the dimensions, probably represents the largest predatory dinosaur ever found in Europe,” Barker says in a media release. “It’s just a shame it’s only known from such scant material.”
The new species was entombed inside a sandstone bed at a prehistoric graveyard called the Vectis Formation. It has been unofficially named the “White Rock spinosaurid” after the geological layer in which it was found.
The isle has been dubbed “Dinosaur Island” for its treasures, which are on display at a purpose-built museum in Sandown. More dinosaur bones have been dug up there than anywhere else in Europe. Its position at the time of the dinosaurs was roughly where Gibraltar is now. Most of these creatures date back to the Cretaceous period.
“Unusually, this specimen eroded out of the Vectis Formation, which is notoriously poor in dinosaur fossils,” says corresponding author Neil Gostling, who teaches evolution and paleobiology at the University of Southampton. “It’s likely to be the youngest spinosaur material yet known from the UK.”
Marks on the bone showed – even after death – the body of this monster probably supported a range of scavengers and decomposers.
Did insects defeat this giant predator?
“Most of these amazing fossils were found by Nick Chase, one of Britain’s most skilled dinosaur hunters, who sadly died just before the COVID epidemic,” says co-author Jeremy Lockwood, a PhD student at the University of Portsmouth and Natural History Museum.
“I was searching for remains of this dinosaur with Nick and found a lump of pelvis with tunnels bored into it, each about the size of my index finger. We think they were caused by bone eating larvae of a type of scavenging beetle. It’s an interesting thought that this giant killer wound up becoming a meal for a host of giant insects.”
The researchers now plan to strip thin sections to scan internal properties of the bones to shed light on the animal’s growth rate and possible age.
“Because it’s only known from fragments at the moment, we haven’t given it a formal scientific name,” notes co-author Darren Naish. “We hope that additional remains will turn up in time.”
“This new animal bolsters our previous argument – published last year – that spinosaurid dinosaurs originated and diversified in western Europe before becoming more widespread.”
In September, the same team announced two other spinosaurs had been discovered nearby. They named one “hell heron” – because it hunted like the wading bird.
The latest is described in the journal PeerJ.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.