A new genus and species of theropod dinosaur from the Cretaceous period has been identified from bones found on the Isle of Wight, the United Kingdom.
The newly-discovered dinosaur roamed the Earth approximately 115 million years ago (Cretaceous period).
It belongs to Tetanurae, a group that includes most theropod dinosaurs, including megalosauroids, allosauroids, tyrannosauroids, ornithomimosaurs, maniraptorans, and birds.
Named Vectaerovenator inopinatus, the ancient creature is estimated to have been up to 4 m (13.1 feet) long.
The fossilized bones from the neck, back and tail of the new dinosaur were found over a period of weeks in 2019 in three separate discoveries, two by individuals and one by a family group, on the foreshore near Knock Cliff on the Isle of Wight.
“The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic. I thought they were special and so took them along when we visited Dinosaur Isle Museum,” said Robin Ward, a fossil hunter who was with his family visiting the Isle of Wight when they made their discovery.
“They immediately knew these were something rare and asked if we could donate them to the museum to be fully researched.”
“It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past,” said regular fossil hunter James Lockyer.
“I was walking along the beach, kicking stones and came across what looked like a bone from a dinosaur,” added regular fossil hunter Paul Farrell.
“I was really shocked to find out it could be a new species.”
Vectaerovenator inopinatus had large air spaces in some of the bones, one of the traits that helped the paleontologists identify its theropod origins.
These air sacs, also seen in modern birds, were extensions of the lung, and it is likely they helped fuel an efficient breathing system while also making the skeleton lighter.
“We were struck by just how hollow this animal was — it’s riddled with air spaces. Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate,” said lead author Chris Barker, a Ph.D. student at the University of Southampton.
“The record of theropod dinosaurs from the mid Cretaceous period in Europe isn’t that great, so it’s been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time.”
“It is likely that Vectaerovenator inopinatus lived in an area just north of where its remains were found, with the carcass having washed out into the shallow sea nearby.”
The team’s paper will be published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.
The lumbering crocodylomorph lived during the early Cretaceous period, about 106 million years ago.
A prehistoric ancestor of the crocodile may have walked on two legs, according to a paper published on June 11 in Scientific Reports.
The new research focuses on large footprints in the Jinju rock formation in South Korea. A 2012 investigation of large, poorly defined footprints suggested that they might have come from a flying reptile called a pterosaur, but clearer footprints discovered recently changed the story. The new footprints capture the shape of the ancient creature’s toes and the texture of its skin, both of which are classically crocodilian. But the footprints had another curious feature: there were only prints from back feet.
To paleontologist Martin Lockley, who specializes in trace fossils at the University of Colorado Denver, the lack of front footprints probably means that the ancient crocodile walked only on its back legs. “We have dozens of these things, and not one sign of a front footprint, so we’re pretty convinced,” Lockley tells Science News.
The tracks are between seven and ten inches long and the animal that left them was probably similar in size to modern crocodiles. It lived during the early Cretaceous period, about 106-million years ago. (The late Cretaceous saw the lifetimes of several dinosaur celebrities like Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and Iguanadon.) The muddy, lake-covered coastal area where the ancient crocodylomorphs lived was a prime location to preserve footprints, Tim Vernimmen writes for National Geographic, and thousands of tracks can be found there today.
“When Martin Lockley visited the site in November 2019, I asked him what he thought of these tracks,” Kyung Soo Kim of Chinju National University of Education in Jinju tells National Geographic. “He immediately suggested that they were of the type known as Batrachopus, a crocodylian. I didn't believe it at that time, because I couldn't imagine a bipedal crocodile. But later, I was convinced by the blunt toes, the toe pads, and the details of the skin.”
The find came as a surprise. Paleontologists have found evidence of bipedal crocodiles before in North Carolina, but that animal lived about 231 million years ago, per Science News. That places it during the Triassic period, or at least 70 million years before the Cretaceous.
“No one knew that large bipedal crocs existed in the early Cretaceous,” Lockley tells New Scientist’s Layal Liverpool.
The new footprints suggest that the previously discovered tracks belong to an ancient crocodile, too. But based on the tracks it left behind, the creature was unlike modern crocodiles in more ways than one. For one thing, the tracks it left behind show that the animal put its feet one in front of the other as it walked, instead of keeping each foot in its own lane like modern crocs, National Geographic reports. And the fossilized footprints show no sign of webbing between the toes, which modern crocs have, per New Scientist.
Stony Brook University paleontologist Pedro Godoy tells New Scientist that while he agrees that the tracks don’t belong to a pterosaur, the unusually large size of the tracks makes him think that more evidence is necessary to link them to an ancient crocodile. But to Emory University paleontologist Anthony Martin, the evidence is convincing.
“[The imprints] really do look like they were made by big crocodilians,” Martin, who was not involved in the new study, tells National Geographic. “Indeed, by ones that were walking on their rear feet and on land. That’s pretty weird. But then again, the Cretaceous was a weird and wondrous time.”
UCMP Berkely- Crocodylomorpha Taxa
The Aldabra white-throated rail bird was declared extinct, a victim of rising sea levels almost 100,000 years ago.
However, the flightless brown bird has recently been spotted – leaving scientists scratching their heads as to how – and why – the species has come back to life.
According to research in the Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, the re-incarnated Aldabra bird is a product of ‘iterative evolution’. That’s when old genes thought to have died out re-emerge at a different point in time.
That means that while a bird’s ancestors might have disappeared, that DNA still remains – and provided the environment is right, there’s nothing to stop those ancient genes from replicating in modern times.
So identical species can indeed produce multiple, slightly evolved offshoots, throughout the course of their species' history.
But don’t get your hopes up that this means dinosaurs and wooly mammoths will be popping up next. This scientific phenomenon only occurs within species that are nearly identical to their ancestors.
While iterative evolution has previously occurred in species such as turtles, it has never been seen in the realm of birds.
“We know of no other example in the rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently,” said paleobiologist David Martill, in a statement.
“Only on the Aldabra, which has the oldest palaentological record of any oceanic island within the Indian Ocean region, is fossil evidence available that demonstrates the effects of changing sea levels on extinction and recolonization events.”
2020 was already an interesting and confusing year. Looks like now we have to contend with re-materializing birds, as well.