The dragon thief dinosaur, whose remains have been found in Wales, marks the Jurassic’s debut, being one of the few giant reptile species that survived the Triassic mass extinction, scientists have recently revealed.
The fossil of the ancient creature, consisting of its skull, teeth, foot bones and claws, corresponds to around 40% of its skeleton, being therefore one of the most incredibly well-preserved remains pertaining to a Jurassic dinosaur that have ever been found.
The newly classified species was recently named “Dracoraptor hanigani”, the first term referring to the fact that the prehistoric bones had been lying hidden in Wales (whose flag features a red dragon) and belong to a “raptor”(literally translated as a thief or a robber).
The second term was actually chosen in honor of Rob and Nick Hanigan, two amateur archaeologists who discovered the ancient carcass and brought it to the attention of the National Museum Wales from Cardiff.
In the spring of 2014, the brothers had been scouring the coastline from the Vale of Glamorgan, located near Penarth and around 12 miles away from Cardiff.
The hope of the two beachcombers have been that they would uncover Ichthyosaurus fossils, but they actually made a much more remarkable discovery, by bringing to light the remains of a previously unidentified species.
Apparently, the newly identified dinosaur, which has been nicknamed the “dragon thief”, roamed the Earth around 200 million years ago, at the very beginning of the Jurassic period.
As explained in an extensive study recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, at the time, few dinosaurs had remained on our planet, after a mass extinction which occurred in the final stage of the Triassic approximately 201.3 million years ago.
The sudden and incredibly far-reaching event, triggered probably by widespread volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts or extreme weather changes, caused the disappearance of more than a half of all the species across the globe, such as the eel-like conodonts.
The vast majority of non-dinosaurian ancient reptiles, as well as a large number of giant amphibians also met their end at the time, but this unprecedented loss in diversity offered the ideal grounds for dinosaurs to emerge as Apex predators, and eventually rule the Jurassic.
The juvenile dragon thief that was unearthed by the Hanigan brothers dates from the very beginning of that new geological period, so it marks one of the earliest stages in the evolution of more instantly recognizable fellow dinosaurs.
Dracoraptor hanigani could’ve been easily dwarfed by the 13-feet tall, 40-feet long Tyrannosaurus Rex, given that its height was of just around 2 feet, while its length was of around 10 feet.
However, what it lacked in height, the cheetah-sized dinosaur probably compensated in agility and voracity, its short, yet incredibly sharp teeth suggesting the raptor could devour its prey with surgical precision.
The ancient reptile also had an unusually long tail, allowing it to stand upright and maintain its balance even when reaching top speeds while chasing its quarry.
As explained by study lead author Steven Vidovic, paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth, while the features of this predator from bygone times may appear ordinary nowadays, chances are they were quite peculiar and uncommon two hundred million years ago, when Jurassic dinosaurs were just beginning to diversify.
Image Source: ValueWalk