A very early carnivorous dinosaur has just been found within rocks of a cliff in the south of Wales.
The dinosaur, named Dracoraptor hanigani or Draco for short, represents the first dinosaur from the Jurassic of Wales, according to a study, published in the journal PLOS ONE. The over 200-million-year-old dino is believed to be the earliest known Jurassic dinosaur from the U.K.
Lead author David Martill of the University of Portsmouth and his team wrote that "the remains of dinosaurs in Wales are exceedingly rare." This makes the discovery all the more important.
Wales might have once been a hotbed of dino activity, however, as the researchers suspect that "lack of preservation" is the primary reason why Jurassic dinosaurs have not been found there before.
Dracoraptor means "dragon robber." A dragon is the national symbol of Wales, so the dino's name reflects local pride over the new find.
Based on the dinosaur's fossils and the location of its remains — a site called Lavernock Point — the researchers believe Draco was an agile hunter that lived along a shoreline. South Wales during the early Jurassic was a coastal region like it is now, but the climate during the dinosaur's lifetime would have been much warmer.
Draco was just over two feet tall and about 6.5 feet wide, which is small for a meat-eating dinosaur. Martill and his colleagues therefore think the individual might have died as a juvenile. Further evidence is that its bones were not yet fully formed or fused.
Even at this young age Draco sported a distinctive long tail, which the researchers think helped with balance.
In the paper, the scientists reveal how they mulled over the dinosaur's extensive age. The dinosaur's features and the geological formation in which it was found at first suggested that the dino could either have been from the late Triassic or the early Jurassic. They settled on the Jurassic.
Co-author Steven Vidovic said in a press release, "The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance."
"Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two-meter-long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales."
Theropods were two-legged dinosaurs that fed on meat. Given that Draco likely lived by the water, he might have enjoyed surf and turf meals before some tragedy cut his life short.