The oldest known meat-eating theropod dinosaur that lived in the United Kingdom between 215 and 200 million years ago has been discovered. The new species, which has been called Pendraig milnerae, translates to “chief dragon” in Middle Welsh and its second name is in reference to the late Angela Milner who was a palaeontologist at the National History Museum and who passed away in August of this year.
Even though it sounds like a terrifying dinosaur, it was only about the size of a chicken, although it was probably an apex predator. Based on its remains, it would have measured approximately 3 feet in length (1 meter) and that includes its tail.
The fossil was discovered back in the 1950s at a quarry in Pant-y-ffynnon in southern Wales where numerous fossilized remains dating back to the Triassic Period have previously been found. At the time, however, researchers believed that it was part of a different group of dinosaurs. But now, after newly conducted research, experts have revealed that it is a completely new species.
Dr. Stephan Spiekman, who is a research fellow at the Museum and the lead author of the paper, described this in further detail, “There is no obvious character that set this species apart. It has a certain combination of several characters that are unique amongst its group, which showed to us it was clearly a new species.”
Interestingly, the fossil had been missing for several years but was later rediscovered by Milner who found it in a drawer full of crocodile materials. The fossils included portions of the back, hips, and legs that allowed researchers to confirm that it belonged to a coelophysoid which were smaller carnivorous dinosaurs that had a long and narrow snout.
Since it was so small, it could have possibly been a juvenile when it died and that it may have possibly grown larger as it aged, although experts aren’t entirely sure. Based on its presumed habitat on an island archipelago (group of scattered islands), the creatures there can be smaller because their food sources are more limited – this shrinking in size is called island dwarfism. And if island dwarfism did occur with this species, it would certainly be a game changer as noted by Dr. Spiekman, “If we could prove it, it would be the earliest known occurrence of this evolutionary phenomenon.”
Experts are now focusing on learning more about this new species as well as the other creatures that lived alongside of it in order to know for sure whether or not its small size was due to island dwarfism.
Nevertheless, this is a very important discovery as explained by Richard Butler who is a professor of paleobiology at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and a co-researcher of the study, “Dinosaur discoveries are really rare in Wales, and this is only the third dinosaur species known from the country.” A picture of some of the bones and an image of what the Pendraig milnerae would have looked like can be seen here.
The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science where it can be read in full.
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