Paleontologists are discovering a new species of dinosaur on the Isle of Wight

Say hello to a new theropod dinosaur species, Vectaerovenator inopinatus. Discovered after a series of serendipitous fossil finds on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, it is thought to date to 115 million years ago, during the Cretaceous.

The Latin name of the new dino roughly refers to ‘unexpected hunter of the air from the Isle of Wight’, which gives you some idea of ​​how and where it was found, the type of dinosaur it is, and how paleontologists were able to figure out what they were dealing with.

All four fossils discovered are hollow as ‘airy’, which points to the delicate structure of the animal and places it in the theropod group, in addition to other dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus rex and the ancestors of modern birds.

new Dino 2Silhouette of a theropod indicating where the bare bones come from. (Darren Naish)

“We were struck by how hollow this animal was – it’s invading with airspace,” says paleontologist Chris Barker, of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. “Parts of the skeleton must have been quite delicate.”

“The record of theropod dinosaurs from the Middle Cretaceous in Europe is not that great, so it has been really exciting to raise our awareness about the variety of dinosaur species from this time.”

The four key fossil pieces in the new study were found in three discoveries – two by individuals and one by a family group – on the shores of Shanklin in the Isle of Wight. The fossil finders are also named as co-authors on a new paper on the findings that will be published shortly.

After the fossils were handed over to the Dinosaur Isle Museum at nearby Sandown, experts came to work trying to identify and share them – and that’s when they realized they were dealing with a new species and a new generation.

While the Isle of Wight is known for its dinosaur remains, the ground on which the fossils were found was composed of marine deposits – somehow this particular terrestrial dinosaur found its way to a watery tomb.

“You don’t normally find dinosaurs in the deposits at Shanklin because they were laid out in a marine habitat,” says Barker. “You have a much better chance of fossil oysters than driftwood, so this is a rare find.”

That rarity, along with the similarity of the bones, suggested that they were all from one animal. Using comparative anatomy techniques, Barker and his colleagues were able to identify the type of dinosaur they were dealing with, as well as what distinguished them from other species.

With only four pieces to go from, the researchers are looking for extra material to be sure of Vectaerovenator inopinatus was once a living, breathing creature – thought to be up to 4 feet or 13 feet in size.

If you find yourself walking on Shanklin Beach, keep your eyes open: not only could you help shed light on a part of the European dinosaur record that we know a little about, you might discover something completely new.

“It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I’ve encountered in the past,” says regular fossil hunter James Lockyer, from Lincolnshire in the UK, who found one of the fossils during a visit to the Isle of Wight.

“I was looking for a place at Shanklin and was told and read that I would not find much there. However, I always make sure I search the areas that others do not, and on this occasion it has paid off well.”

The study was submitted for publication in Papers in Palaeontology.