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New Meat-Eating Dinosaur Is Oldest Discovered On UK Soil

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: James Robbins

Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London, England have published a paper in The Royal Society, stating they’ve discovered a new meat-eating dinosaur. According to their findings, it is the oldest such pre-historic reptile found on British soil.

Pendraig milnerae bones against a black backdrop

Pendraig milnerae bones. (Photo Credit: Stephan Spiekman et al. 2021)

The small carnivorous dinosaur was discovered in a limestone quarry at Pantyffynnon in southern Wales during the 1950s. It was initially believed to belong to another group of dinosaurs, but has now been deemed a new species, named Pendraig milnerae.

The dinosaur was named in honor of its Welsh origins and in memory of scientist Angela Milner, who passed away in August 2021. She worked as a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum for four decades, specializing in four-legged vertebrates, including reptiles, mammals, and amphibians.

She was responsible for naming a variety of dinosaur species during her lifetime.

According to Dr. Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher in palaeobiology at the Natural History Museum, the dinosaur’s bones were missing for many years and found by Milner in a drawer. “I told her that I couldn’t find it, so she went away and about three hours later she had it,” Maidment said. “She found it in a drawer of crocodile material, and she must have had the specimen in her mind’s eye from when she had previously looked through it.”

Dr. Angela Milner holding a fossil

Dr. Angela Milner. (Photo Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London)

In 1952, researchers found part of the back, legs, and hips in one of the Pantyffynnon fissures. They were able to discern that they likely belonged to a coelophysoid – a smaller, carnivorous dinosaur common to the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods. This means it could be as much as 214 million years old.

“It’s a typical theropod; so, a meat-eating dinosaur that walked around on two legs, like T. rex or Velociraptor that you’ll know from the movies, but much earlier in time,” said Dr. Stephan Spiekman with the National History Museum.

“There is no obvious character that set this species apart,” he added. “It has a certain combination of several characters that are unique amongst its group, which showed to us it was clearly a new species.”

It’s the oldest-known theropod dinosaur found in the UK, and has helped create a better understanding of the evolution of Europe’s dinosaurs. It’s believed the bones’ small size indicate they came from a juvenile, and that adults were larger.

Exterior of the Natural History Museum in London, England

Natural History Museum. (Photo Credit: Chiuchihmin / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Complicating research into the Pendraig milnerae is that it likely resided on an island archipelago, which may have resulted in its small size. Known as “island dwarfism,” this is a process during which species shrink due to lack of resources or large predators.

Paired with the belief the bones belonged to a juvenile, scientists in the 1990s initially thought it to be a species of Syntarsus. This was later dropped after it was determined the Syntarsus species was actually related to other groups, meaning more research was required.

Artist rendering of the Pendraig milnerae in its natural habitat

Artist rendering of the Pendraig milnerae. (Photo Credit: James Robbins)

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Researchers plan to look into the life of the Pendraig milnerae and the fauna it lived alongside to learn whether its size was a direct result of its island habitat.