In spring 2014, fossil-hunting brothers Rob and Nick Hanigan discovered a dinosaur skeleton on a beach near Penarth, Wales. Living over 200 million years ago, the dinosaur represented the earliest skeleton of a Jurassic dinosaur ever found, and the first theropod skeleton found in Wales.
Now, researchers from the Univ. of Portsmouth, the Univ. of Manchester, and the National Museum Wales have described and named the dinosaur in a paper published in PLOS One.
“Theropod dinosaurs are extremely rare in the Lower Jurassic and most reports are of only fragmentary remains. This rarity results in a considerable gap in our knowledge of these animals at a time when, indications are, theropods were diversifying rapidly,” the researchers write. “In Europe Early Jurassic theropods are reported from the Hettangian of Scotland, England, France, and Belgium, but all of these occurrences are of fragmentary material, isolated bones, or a few associated elements, with most of it non-diagnostic at generic level.”
Isolated bones and teeth from dinosaurs have been found in south Wales, near Bridgend and Cowbridge.
The researchers named the specimen Dracoraptor hanigani. Dracoraptor means dragon thief and hanigani is derived the fossil finders’ last name. The dragon is the national symbol of Wales.
“The draco part of the name seemed fitting because the fossils were found in Wales and will be displayed in Wales, reflecting the red dragon of the Welsh flag,” said paleontologist Dave Martill. “Dracoraptor was a meat-eating dinosaur that would have used its small needle-sharp teeth with steak-knife serrations to pinch bits of meat here and there, hence the part of its name meaning thief.”
The bones, which included the skull, claws, teeth, and foot bones, were spread across five rock slabs. The researchers believe the specimen was a juvenile, as some of its bones were not fully formed. Martill said the animal was probably around 70 cm tall and 200 cm long, about the size of a leopard or cheetah.
It was a distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex.
“This animal was small, slim, and agile,” Martill said.