Europe's largest land predator discovered on the Isle of Wight

Europe's largest land predator discovered on the Isle of Wight
Anthony Hutchings created this illustration of a White Rock spinosaurid. Credit: UoS/A Hutchings

 Research led by paleontologists at the University of Southampton has identified the remains of one of Europe's largest hunters ever: a dinosaur over 10 meters long that lived about 125 million years ago.

Many of the prehistoric bones, discovered on the Isle of Wight, on the south coast of England, and housed at the Dinosaur Island Museum in Sandown, belonged to a type of predatory, legged, crocodile-faced dinosaur known as spinosaurus. 

It was dubbed the "white rock spinosaurid" after the geological layer in which it was discovered, and it was a formidable predator.

"This was a huge animal, well over 10 meters in length and probably several tons in weight. Judging from some dimensions, it appears to represent one of the largest predatory dinosaurs found in Europe - and possibly even the largest known to date," said Ph.D. 

Student Chris Parker, who led the study. "It is a shame that it is known only from a small amount of material, but these are enough to prove that it is a formidable creature."

The discovery comes on the heels of previous work on dinosaurs by the University of Southampton team, which published a study on the discovery of two new species in 2021.

Europe's largest land predator discovered on the Isle of Wight
Best preserved bone position. Credit : Chris Barker/Dan Folkes

The bones of a white rock spinosaurus, which include the massive pelvic and tail vertebrae, among other pieces, were discovered near Compton Chin, on the southwest coast of the Isle of Wight.

 Cretaceous rocks are best known for their dinosaurs, but less appreciated is the fact that the island's fossil record preserves dinosaurs from more than one section of history - and some of these sections, even today, are not well known.

"Unusually, this specimen was eroded from the Vectis Formation, which is notorious for being poor in dinosaur fossils," said corresponding author Dr. Neil Jostling, who studies evolution and paleobiology at the University of Southampton. "Probably the smallest Spinosaurus is known to date from the UK."

The 125-million-year-old Vectis Formation preserves the beginning of a period of rising sea levels when "white rock spinosaurus" hunted lake waters and sandy plains in search of food.

"Because it is only known from the fragments at present, we have not given it an official scientific name," co-author Darren Naish said. "We hope that additional remains will appear in time," he added.

"This new animal supports our previous, published last year, argument that the Spinosaurus arose and diversified in Western Europe before spreading elsewhere."

Marks on the bone also showed how this giant's body, even after death, might have supported a group of scavengers and decomposers.

"Most of these amazing fossils were found by Nick Chase, one of Britain's most skilled dinosaur hunters, who unfortunately died before the Covid epidemic," said co-author Jeremy Lockwood, Ph.D., Jeremy Lockwood. Student at the University of Portsmouth and the Museum of Natural History. 

"I was looking for the dinosaur's remains with Nick when I discovered a lump in the sink with boring tunnels about the size of my index finger. We believe they were caused by bone-eating sweeping beetle larvae. It's an intriguing thought that this colossal killer ended up as a meal for a swarm of insects.

The researchers hope to generate thinner bits of the material to look at the microscopic internal properties of bones in the near future, which may provide information about their growth rate and possible lifespan.



Chris T. Barker, Jeremy A.F. Lockwood, Darren Naish, Sophie Brown, Amy Hart, Ethan Tulloch, Neil J. Gostling. A European giant: a large spinosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous), UK. PeerJ, 2022; 10: e13543 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.13543

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