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Meet Dracoraptor hanigani, the ancient ‘dragon’ found in Wales

Discovered in 2014 by amateur paleontologists, it has earned the name Dracoraptor hanigani, or “dragon robber,” derived, in part, from the national symbol of Wales, The Guardian reports.

The second part of the dinosaur’s name refers to brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan, who discovered the fossil remains in the debris of a recent rock fall.

Scientists have confirmed that the dinosaur is a new species.

The bones of this two-meter long dinosaur hadn’t completely knitted together, therefore scientists believe that this smaller relative of Tyrannosaurus rex was a youngster, The Independent reports.

Living 200 million years ago, in the early Jurassic before dinosaurs dominated the planet, Dracoraptor ran among crocodiles and small mammals in a climate that was warmer and much more tropical than it is now.

Nick and Rob were searching for fossils of ichthyosaurs — ancient marine reptiles, The Guardian reports. They noticed a jumble of boulders that had fallen from the cliff face and crumbled on the shore at Lavernock Point on the Severn estuary.

Bones were poking out of some of the rocks, and the brothers realized they may well be dinosaur bones. So they alerted the National Museum Wales, along with other experts, who went to the site and recovered more bones belonging to the little theropod dinosaur.

A team of scientists led by Dr. David Martill from the University of Portsmouth have analyzed bones from all over this critter’s body and when this Jurassic puzzle was pieced together, a picture arose of a dinosaur that stood 70cm tall (just over 27 inches), and about two meters (nearly seven feet) from tip of snout to tip of tail, Sci-News reports. An array of sharp front teeth followed by others that resemble serrated steak knives tell the story of this creature’s life as a meat-eater.

Martill co-authored a paper regarding the results of their analysis, which appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.

Because Dracoraptor lived at the beginning of the Jurassic, there’s a good chance it is the oldest Jurassic dinosaur in the UK, or even in the world.

“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,” said co-author Dr. Steven Vidovic, of the University of Portsmouth

“Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete 6-foot-long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales.”

The extinction event wiped out many larger animals and opened an ecological niche that dinosaurs could expand into, Vidovic noted, per The Guardian. The fossil record for this period is paltry, with only a few scraps of bone from the early Jurassic. Dracoraptor helps fill in this gap in our knowledge, he said.

This juvenile dinosaur probably died on a nearby island and was washed out to sea, Vidovic said. Then it sank quickly to the bottom. Prehistoric sea urchins feasted on the carcass, removing skin and sinews in the process. The bones became buried in sediments over tens of millions of years that now form the cliff face at Lavernock Point.

Dracoraptor may have died millions of years ago, but it’s now alive in the minds of scientists and amateur paleontologists alike.

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