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New species of ankylosaur discovered on the Isle of Wight

A team of researchers led by the National History Museum (NHM) in London has recently described a new species of armored dinosaur discovered in the Wessex formation on the Isle of Wight.

Vectipelta barretti was named in the honor of Paul Barrett, one of NHM’s most famous paleontologists, and is the first ankylosaur from this region to be described in 142 years. 

“This is an important specimen because it sheds light on ankylosaur diversity within the Wessex formation and Early Cretaceous England,” said study lead author Stuart Pond, a vertebrate paleontologist at NHM.

“For virtually 142 years, all ankylosaur remains from the Isle of Wight have been assigned to Polacanthus foxii, a famous dinosaur from the island, now all of those finds need to be revisited because we’ve described this new species.”

Relatives of Chinese ankylosaurs 

V. barretti differs from P. foxii in several key features, including the structure of the neck, back vertebrae, and the pelvis, as well as its more blade-like spiked armor

In fact, by using phylogenetic analyses to examine the relationships between different ankylosaurs, the experts discovered that V. barretti was more closely related to some Chinese ankylosaurs, suggesting these dinosaurs moved freely from Asia to Europe in the Early Cretaceous. 

Dinosaur diversity in the Early Cretaceous 

Since fossil remains from the Early Cretaceous are quite rare worldwide, some scientists suggest that a mass extinction occurred at the end of the Jurassic. The theory gives a better understanding of dinosaur diversity during this period.

This is crucial knowledge for clarifying whether such an extinction event occurred. Also, if it did occur, how life recovered afterwards. With fossils from this period mostly absent in North America, the Wessex formation and the Isle of Wight remain highly important areas for answering these questions.

During the Cretaceous, the Isle of Wight most likely had a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean. It consisted of a flood plain covered by a large, meandering river system.

By washing organic matter such as plants, logs, or even dinosaur bodies together, floods helped preserve these organic materials as fossils. They were buried in the clay soil that dried out after the waters receded. 

The researchers are confident that more species will be discovered in this region in the near future.

“We have new iguanodontians that we are lining up, to be prepped and to be studied. I think we have at least two new taxa in the collections. With regards to ankylosaurs, they are somewhat rarer, so I think we need to keep our eyes peeled,” concluded senior author Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher in Paleobiology at NHM.

A detailed description of V. barretti was published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

More about ankylosaurs 

Ankylosaurs, also known as Ankylosauria, were a group of mainly herbivorous dinosaurs, characterized by their heavy armor of bony plates and spikes, as well as their distinct club-like tail.

These dinosaurs lived from the early Jurassic period to the end of the Cretaceous period. They were widespread and have been found in geological formations all around the world, though the most famous and complete specimens come from the late Cretaceous of western North America and Asia.

Ankylosaurs were quadrupedal, meaning they walked on all four legs, and had a broad, robust body. They were typically small to medium-sized dinosaurs, although a few species were quite large.

Their unique body armor consisted of large bony plates, or osteoderms, which covered the majority of the body, and smaller nodules and spikes that provided additional protection. This armor was so extensive that some ankylosaurs even had bony eyelids.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of ankylosaurs is the tail club found in many species. This was a large bony mass at the end of the tail that could be swung from side to side as a defensive weapon. Some tail clubs were quite large and, given the strength of the dinosaur’s tail muscles, could likely deliver a devastating blow.

The skulls of ankylosaurs were low and flat, with small, leaf-shaped teeth adapted for a diet of plants. They likely had a keen sense of smell, as suggested by the large size of the olfactory part of the brain.

Despite their formidable defenses, ankylosaurs likely lived a relatively peaceful lifestyle, grazing on low-growing plants and using their armor and tail clubs mainly for defense against predators.

The social behavior of ankylosaurs is still a topic of research, with some evidence suggesting they might have lived in herds, while other evidence points towards a more solitary lifestyle.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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