A European Giant: a large spinosaurid (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation, (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous) UK.
Chris T. Barker, Jeremy A.F. Lockwood, Darren Naish, Sophie Brown, Amy Hart, Ethan Tulloch, and Neil J. Gostling
Summarized by Makayla Palm
What data were used? Fossil remains of a new theropod dinosaur from Southern England were discovered and excavated over several months’ time. These bones consisted of post-cranial fragments, or the parts of the skeleton below the skull. Most of the vertebrae, parts of the pelvis, and some ribs were identified from this specimen, also known as the White Rock spinosaurid. Measurements were taken of the fragments, and an evolutionary (phylogenetic) analysis was inferred to see where this theropod may fit on an evolutionary tree.
Methods: Scientists measured these new bone fragments, and over 1,000 characteristics of the fragments were cataloged in a computer and compared to other theropods in a character database. This database categorizes dinosaurs by the features found within their bones, and accounts for the smallest of variations to be as specific as possible. These features also help place the theropod on a family tree by using computer programs that arrange all of the characters to identify which dinosaurs are closely related to one another.
Results: This theropod’s size and other morphological features indicate that it is likely closely related to Spinosaurus, but may or may not be in the genus Spinosaurus. There is a lot of weathering of the fossil remains, which makes more specific categorization not possible at this time. The presence of canals within the bones suggests that post-death, something began to eat away at the theropod’s bones. Scientists have seen very similar features before in other Cretaceous theropods, and the canals are likely due to beetle pupae that dug their way through these bones after the dinosaur had died. The phylogenetic tree did not provide enough resolution to confirm a more specific group that this specimen belongs to, but the likelihood that it represents a new type of spinosaurid is high. This specimen is not only the first of its kind found in this geological location, but its size rivals all of the known specimens in Europe.
Why is this study important? This study provides insight into the geologic history of Southern England with the presence of the first known large theropod. First, the Lower Cretaceous geological formations of western Europe have been defined as the origin of the spinosaurids. Secondly, the White Rock spinosaurid appears in the fossil record later than any known spinosaurid on the Island, indicating the presence of spinosaurids to last longer than before. The size of this spinosaurid may have warded off other predators, which might explain why fossils of other theropods have been found this late in other known Spinosaurus– bearing locations. This specimen is classified as a spinosaurid and not a Spinosaurus, because its bones were not preserved well enough to confirm a new taxon of Spinosaurus. More phylogenetic analysis, and the discovery of new material, will provide future insight into its taxonomic placement.
The big picture: A new theropod has been discovered in Southern England, and its large size and location implies it is not only a new spinosaurid, but also one of the largest theropod dinosaurs in Europe to date. Its presence improves the known range of spinosaurids and may provide new insight into taxonomic variation within the spinosaurids.
Citation: Barker, Chris T., Lockwood, Jeremy A.F., Naish, Darren, Brown, Sophie, Hart, Amy, Tulloch, Ethan, Gostling, Neil J. “A European Giant: A Large Spinosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous), UK.” PeerJ, vol. 10, 2022, https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.13543.