The scourge of Jurassic Europe

WILL DUNHAM
Last updated 14:15 06/03/2014
Dinosaur
Reuters

TORVOSAURUS GURNEYI: Two scientists in Portugal have identified the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Europe, a brute that was the scourge of its Jurassic domain.

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In Europe 150 million years ago, this dude was the biggest, baddest bully in town.

Two scientists in Portugal announced on Wednesday that they have identified the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Europe, a 10-metre-long brute called Torvosaurus gurneyi that was the scourge of its domain in the Jurassic Period.

"It was indeed better not to cross the way of this large, carnivorous dinosaur," said palaeontologist Christophe Hendrickx of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Museu da Lourinh in Portugal.

Torvosaurus gurneyi was an imposing beast. It was bipedal, weighed four to five tons, had a skull almost 1.2m-long, boasted powerful jaws lined with blade-shaped teeth 10cm-long, and may have been covered with an early type of feather, Hendrickx said.

"Torvosaurus gurneyi was obviously a super predator feeding on large prey like herbivorous dinosaurs," Hendrickx said.

Remains of the new species were unearthed in Portugal by an amateur fossil hunter in 2003 in the rock cliffs of Lourinh, a small town about 72km north of Lisbon, Hendrickx said. He said fossilised embryos probably belonging to this species were identified last year in Portugal.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

At the time that Torvosaurus prowled the landscape, the region was a lush river delta with abundant fresh water and vegetation. The area teemed with dinosaurs and flying reptiles known as pterosaurs, primitive birds, crocodiles, turtles and mouse-sized mammals, according to palaeontologist Octvio Mateus, also of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Museu da Lourinh.

Plant-eating dinosaurs living in the area included the huge, long-necked Lusotitan, the armoured, tank-like Dracopelta and the spiky-tailed Miragaia, Mateus added.

The two scientists said this is the second species of the genus Torvosaurus. The other one, Torvosaurus tanneri, lived at the same time in North America. It was known from the states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and was identified in 1979.

Its genus name, Torvosaurus, means "savage lizard". Its species name, gurneyi, honours James Gurney, the author and illustrator of the popular Dinotopia book series.

Torvosaurus gurneyi was not the only meat-eating dinosaur in its neighbourhood. For example, there was a European species of the well-known North American Jurassic predator Allosaurus, but the Torvosaurus found in Portugal was larger.

Torvosaurus gurneyi not only is the largest known meat-eating dinosaur from Europe, but is the biggest land predator of any kind ever found on the continent, they added.

There were larger dinosaur carnivores elsewhere, however.

Tyrannosaurus in North America, Carcharodontosaurus and Spinosaurus in North Africa and Giganotosaurus in Argentina all were bigger, but appeared on Earth much later than Torvosaurus, during the Cretaceous Period that followed the Jurassic Period.

"This animal, Torvosaurus, was already a fossil for 80 million years before the T Rex ever walked the Earth," Mateus said.

During the Jurassic Period from about 200 million years ago to 145 million years ago, carnivorous dinosaurs generally were medium-sized, with an average length of about 2 to 5 metres. Larger ones like Torvosaurus, Allosaurus and Saurophaganax arrived in the late Jurassic Period.

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- Reuters

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