Remains suggest spinosaur, a crocodile-faced hunter, measured over 10 metres from snout to tail
Researchers discovered the spinosaur remains in rock eroded from a cliff on the beach at Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight. Photograph: Artwork: Anthony Hutchings/PeerJ Life & Environment
Fossil hunters on the Isle of Wight have unearthed the remains of what may be the largest predatory dinosaur ever found in Europe.
Pieces of bone belonging to a massive spinosaur, a two-legged crocodile-faced beast that lived 125m years ago, suggest the land-based hunter measured over 10 metres from snout to tail.
Researchers discovered vertebrae and parts of the pelvis and a limb bone in rock eroded from a cliff that had tumbled on to the beach at Compton Bay in the south-west of the Isle of Wight.
“From the bones that we’ve got, this animal may be the largest predatory dinosaur that has ever been found in Europe,” said Dr Neil Gostling, a palaeobiologist at the University of Southampton. “It’s straight out of Compton.”
While dinosaurs were land-based creatures, spinosaurs are known to have spent a lot of time in or near water, with fish making up a substantial proportion of their diet. Whether they caught fish or scavenged on them after they washed up on shorelines is unclear.
White Rock spinosaurid bone fragments. Photograph: PeerJ Life & Environment
Chris Barker, a PhD student who led the study, said the animal was “huge”, though too little of the dinosaur has yet been recovered to determine whether or not it is a new species of spinosaur. “It’s a shame it’s only known from a small amount of material, but these are enough to show it was an immense creature,” he said.
The discovery follows previous work on spinosaurs by the University of Southampton team, which reported the discovery of two new species in 2021. The family of dinosaurs that contains spinosaurs may have emerged in Europe about 150m years ago and from that point spread more widely. Details of the remains, which are on display in the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown, are published in the journal PeerJ Life and Environment.
Scientists have called the latest finding the White Rock spinosaurid after the geological layer in which the bones were found. Most of the remains were discovered by Nick Chase, a British dinosaur hunter who died shortly before the Covid pandemic.
Darren Naish, a palaeontologist and co-author on the study, said the new remains bolstered the team’s belief that spinosaurid dinosaurs originated and diversified in western Europe before becoming more widespread. “We hope that additional remains will turn up in time,” he said. “Because it’s only known from fragments at the moment, we haven’t given it a formal scientific name.”
Marks found on the bones, including tunnels bored into the chunk of pelvic bone, suggest that the creature became food for scavengers after it died. Another co-author, Jeremy Lockwood, a PhD student at the University of Portsmouth and the Natural History Museum, said holes in the piece of pelvic bone were the size of a finger and may have been caused by the bone-eating larvae of a scavenging beetle.
The team now hope to prepare thin sections of the bones which can be examined under a microscope to learn more about the dinosaur’s growth rate and potential age.