A giant crocodile dinosaur discovered on the Isle of Wight by one of Britain’s top fossil hunters was likely the largest carnivore ever to haunt Europe, scientists said Thursday. Most of the bones of the bipedal spinosaurid were found by the late local collector Nick Chase, who devoted his life to combing the beaches of an island off the south coast of England in search of dinosaur remains.
Researchers at the University of Southampton then used the few available bones to identify what they called the “White Rock spinosaurid,” according to a study published in the journal PeerJ.
“It was a huge animal, over 10 meters (33 feet) long and, by some measurements, probably the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Europe,” said Chris Barker, a graduate student who led the study.
While acknowledging that it would be better to have more bones, Barker told AFP “the numbers don’t lie – it’s larger than the largest known specimen” previously found in Europe. Thomas Richard Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland who was not involved in the study, agreed that the new find “really looks bigger” than the huge predator fossilized in Portugal.
Matt LaManna, a dinosaur paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the US, praised the specimen’s “excellent, thorough examination” given the lack of bones, but said it was difficult to compare sizes. For example, he said that the largest known spinosaurid, Spinosaurus, was probably the longest dinosaur, “but it probably wasn’t as heavy” as a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Giganotosaurus – “the latter of which will soon become super-famous thanks to the new film “Jurassic World”.
The White Rock spinosaurid, which the researchers hope to formally name as a new species, dates back to the Early Cretaceous and is estimated to be about 125 million years old. It is the youngest spinosaurid found in the UK, Barker says, two to three million years younger than the known Baryonyx.
Spinosaurids are known for their elongated heads. Instead of the box-shaped skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex, their snouts are more like those of crocodilians. The leading theory to explain this feature is that they hunted both in water and on land.
“They looked like storks and herons, they went into the water and snatched fish from the surface,” Barker said.
The White Rock spinosaurid was discovered in a coastal lagoon where few dinosaur fossils are commonly found.
“It helps give an idea of what kind of animals lived at the time, which is a very little known part of England’s paleontological heritage,” Barker added.
Nick Chase, who scientists call “one of Britain’s most accomplished dinosaur hunters,” found most of the new spinosaurid bones. The team has already identified two new species of spinosaurids on the Isle of Wight, including Ceratosuchops inferodios, nicknamed the “hell heron”.
“This new animal confirms our previous argument, published last year, that spinosaurus dinosaurs originated and diversified in Western Europe before becoming more widespread,” said study co-author Darren Neish.
Paleontologists paid tribute to Chase, who always donated the bones he found to museums.
“Most of these amazing fossils were found by Nick Chase, one of Britain’s most accomplished dinosaur hunters, who sadly died shortly before the COVID epidemic,” said study co-author Jeremy Lockwood, a PhD student at the University of Portsmouth.
Barker said Chase’s “uncanny ability” to find bones shows that “it’s not just professional paleontologists who have an impact on this discipline.”
The discovery “highlights the fact that collectors play a big role in modern paleontology, and their generosity helps move science forward,” he added.