Newly discovered dinosaur species in the UK nicknamed ‘hell heron’

30 Sep 2021

Artistic impression of the newly identified species. Image: Anthony Hutchings

Ceratosuchops inferodios has been nicknamed ‘hell heron’ for its fearsome predatory habits akin to the modern-day bird.

The Isle of Wight may be a popular tourist spot today, but you might not have found it as welcoming if you visited 125m years ago.

Scientists have discovered and studied fossils of two large meat-eating dinosaur species on England’s largest island, which had crocodile-like skulls, were about nine metres long, and weighed between one and two tonnes each.

Belonging to a family of theropods known as spinosaurids, the two species probably walked the island’s shorelines at the same time in the Early Cretaceous period and fed mainly on fish. They are related to the semi-aquatic giant Spinosaurus, known for its sail-like structure.

One of two new species, Ceratosuchops inferodios, has been nicknamed “the horned crocodile-faced hell heron” for its fearsome predatory habits at shorelines akin to the modern-day bird.

The second, Riparovenator milnerae, has been named after British palaeontologist Angela Milner who died in August.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports and span years-long research on the fossil-rich Isle of Wight. Last year, researchers working on the island discovered a new species of dinosaur and potentially a whole new genus.

‘Enormous jigsaw’

“This work has brought together universities, the Dinosaur Isle museum and the public to reveal these amazing dinosaurs and the incredibly diverse ecology of the south coast of England 125m years ago,” said project supervisor Neil J Gostling from University of Southampton.

While one spinosaurid skeleton, belonging to Baryonyx, was previously unearthed in the UK, the scientists said they realised that the bones found on the Isle of Wight belonged to previously unknown species of dinosaurs.

Chris Baker, a PhD student at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said: “We found the skulls to differ not only from Baryonyx, but also one another, suggesting the UK housed a greater diversity of spinosaurids than previously thought.”

Discovered near the island’s Brightstone beach over several years, many of the bones were collected by fossil hunters such as Jeremy Lockwood. Lockwood, a retired GP and resident of the island who is now doing a PhD in paleontology, donated his findings to the Dinosaur Isle Museum.

“We realised after the two snouts were found that this would be something rare and unusual,” he said. “Then it just got more and more amazing as several collectors found and donated other parts of this enormous jigsaw to the museum.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic