Paleontologists have discovered fossils indicating a new dinosaur species that is the largest predator ever found in Europe. Christophe Hendrickx, a doctoral candidate at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal, along with supervisor Octavio Mateus, announced on Wednesday that they had discovered the remains of the Torvosaurus gurneyi at the Lourinha Formation, a common site for dinosaur bones located north of Lisbon. The dinosaur lived in the Jurassic period and was an estimated 33 feet long, weighing between four to five tons with a skull about 45 inches long, and brandished large, blade-like teeth that were almost four inches in length.
The first of the bones were originally found in 2003 and were believed to be apart of another species, the Torvosaurus tanneri, which was a dinosaur with similar qualities but found in North America. The confusion was due to the assumption that during the time of the supercontinent, Pangaea, dinosaurs could have migrated back and forth between Europe and North America. Therefore it is not uncommon to find fossils belonging to the same species of dinosaurs on the different continents.
But when comparing the fossils from the Portuguese discovery to those in North America, Hendrickx saw several distinctions that made the two different. For one, the Torvosaurus tanneri’s upper jaw had 11 or more teeth, while the Torvosaurus gurneyi had fewer. Also, the tail vertebrae did not match.
The Jurassic period dates back 200 to 145 million years ago. During that period, carnivorous dinosaurs were generally smaller than the Torvosaurus, with an average length of about 7 to 16 feet. But the Torvosaurus gurneyi arrived later in the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. By that time Pangaea had begun to split and the Iberian Peninsula had broken off from North America. The split allowed each species to develop independently.
Gregory Erickson, a Florida State University paleobiologist, called the findings exciting and said that Hendrickx’s discovery of the large predator species provides compelling evidence to support the hypothesis that there was some temporary connection between the North American and European continents late in the Jurassic period.
Erickson also added that the Torvosaurus gurneyi was the Tyrannosaurus rex of its time. Although the Torvosaurus gurneyi may have been the dominant predator of its time, there are a number of differences between the two species.
Apart from their genus names, Torvosaurus, meaning “savage lizard” and Tyrannosaurus, meaning “tyrant lizard,” the two species lived on different continents in different periods. By the time the Tyrannosaurus rex came about 80 million years later, in the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago), the Torvosaurus was already a fossil. The Torvosaurus was also smaller and more slender, with the blade-like teeth ideally used for cutting through flesh, while the Tyrannosaurus had banana-like teeth used to crush bones. And while the Tyrannosaurus likely bit and crushed its prey with its jaws, the Torvosaurus may have wounded its prey with a devastating bite, then waited for it to die.
Hendrickx and Mateus’ full study of discovering the fossils of not only the largest known carnivorous dinosaur in Europe, but also the largest land predator ever found on the continent, was published in the journal PLOS One. In the study they also explain the etymology of the name gurneyi, which derives from paleoartist James Gurney, the creator of Dinotopia.
By David Tulis