Say hello to a new species of theropod dinosaur, Unexpected vectaerovenator. Discovered after a series of major fossil discoveries in the Isle of Wight in the UK, it is thought to date back to about 115 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.
The Latin name of the new dino roughly refers to the ‘sudden hunter-filled air from the Isle of Wight’, which gives you some idea of how and where it was found, what kind of dinosaur it is, and how paleontologists were able to understand that what were they doing.
All four fossils found are empty or “filled with air”, which indicates the delicate structure of the animal and places it in the theropod group, alongside other dinosaurs such as e.g. Tyrannosaurus rex and the ancestors of modern day birds.
“We were amazed at how wild this animal was – it crashed into the air,” said paleonologist Chris Barker of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. “Parts of his skeleton must have been quite delicate.”
“The record of theropod dinosaurs from the mid-Cretan period in Europe is not so great, so it has been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species by this time.”
The four major fossil pieces in the new research were found in three discoveries – two by individuals and one by a family group – off the coast of Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. Fossil finders are also named as co-authors in a new paper on the findings to be published soon.
After the fossils were handed over to the Dinosaur Isle Museum in nearby Sandown, experts tried to identify them and put them together – and this when they realized they were dealing with a new species and a new genus.
While the Isle of Wight is well known for its dinosaur remains, the land where the fossils were found was made up of marine deposits – somehow this particular terrestrial dinosaur found its way to a water tomb.
“You don’t usually find dinosaurs in deposits in Shanklin as they were placed in a marine habitat,” Barker says. “You are much more likely to find fossil seagrass or driftwood, so this is really a rare find.”
This rarity, along with the resemblance of the bones, suggests that they were from a single animal. Using comparative anatomy techniques, Barker and his colleagues were able to identify the type of dinosaur they were dealing with, as well as what set it apart from other species.
However, with only four parts to come out, researchers are looking for additional materials to be safer than Unexpected vectaerovenator once was a living and breathing creature – thought to have been up to 4 meters or 13 meters in size.
If you find yourself walking on Shanklin Beach, keep your eyes open: not only can you help shed light on some of the dinosaur European records of which we know very little, you can discover something completely new.
“It looked different from the marine reptile beads I have encountered in the past,” says regular fossil hunter James Lockyer, from Lincolnshire in the UK, who found one of the fossils on a visit to the Isle of Wight.
“I was looking for a place in Shanklin and I was told and read that I would not find much there. However, I always make sure to look in places that others do not, and on this occasion it was paid.”
The research is submitted for publication in Papers in Paleeontology.