Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Theropods of the British Isles Part I



The bipedal theropods represent the most diverse group of dinosaurs including all the meat-eating ones as well as some omnivorous and herbivorous forms. Primitive theropods include the coelophysoids (small, slender and lightly built dinosaurs that thrived worldwide during the Late Triassic, and for which the best known representative is the North American Coelophysis), the ceratosaurs (including forms such as Ceratosaurus and Carnotaurus) and the tetanurans. The last group contains the vast majority of the theropods and its members are characterized among other things by a rigid tail and the total loss of the fourth and fifth digits in their hands. Megalosaurs (i.e. Megalosaurus) are early tetanurans while Spinosaurs (i.e. Spinosaurus and co) are possibly related to them. Later tetanurans are the allosauroids (large predators such as Allosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus) and the coelurosaurians, which in turn include the tyrannosauroids (such as Tyrannosaurus), the ornithomimosaurs (the ostrich-mimic forms such as Struthiomimus and Ornithomimus) and the maniraptorans. The maniraptorans with their modified wrist and generally large hands are represented by the birds (where the hands became wings) and all their closest relatives, such as the oviraptosaurs (Oviraptor and co), the deinonychosaurs (Velociraptor and co).

Fig 1.- Small coelophysoids lived during the Late Triassic in Great Britain.

Late Triassic Theropods

During the Upper Carnian (~ 220 MYA) of Scotland lived Saltopus elginensis Huene 1910, known from a poorly preserved partial skeleton including dorsal, sacral and caudal vertebrae and fragments of fore and hind limbs (BMNH R3915) found in the Lossiemouth Sandstone Formation, near Elgin, Morayshire. The exact affinities of the animal have been debated. It was either a primitive theropod or a more ancestral dinosauriform.

Theropods were definitely present during the Late Triassic period in the British Isles as proven by the discovery of fragments in the fissure fills of southern Wales. A pelvis, femur and dorsal vertebrae (BMNH PV RU P77/1 and RUP 76/1) from Pant-y-ffynon, Wales of Norian age (~210 MYA), were possibly from a coelophysoid.

The dubious ‘Zanclodon’ cambrensis Newton, 1899 of Rhaetian age (~200 MYA) is known from the mold of a large left dentary with teeth (BGS 6532/BMNH R2912) from Glamorganshire, Wales (Lilstock Fm). This one might be another coelophysoid.


Fig 2.- Larger coelophysoid such as Sarcosaurus roamed the Early Jurassic of England.

Early Jurassic Theropods

In the early Jurassic, coelophysoids are represented by the shadowy Sarcosaurus. The type species, Sarcosaurus woodi Andrews, 1921 is known from a partial pelvis, femur and vertebra (BMNH 4840/1) from Leicestershire (Lias Fm) of Early Sinemurian age (which probably is actually of earlier Late Rhaetian or Hettangian age, ~198-200 MYA). A second species, Sarcosaurus andrewsi Huene, 1932 (= Magnosaurus woodwardi) is based on a partial right tibia (BMNH R3542), originally reported by Woodward in 1908 from Warwickshire of Hettangian age (~198 MYA). Sarcosaurus was a quite large coelophysoid with an estimated length of about 3.5 m.

From the Sinemurian (~192 MYA) Upper Broadford Beds Formation of the Isle of Skye (Scotland) came an incomplete right tibia (NMS.G.1994.10.1), interpreted as belonging to a small theropod, probably another coelophysoid (Benton et al., 1995).

A partial hindlimb from Charmouth, Dorset  (BMNH 39496) that was described by Owen (1861) alongside remains of the ornithischian Scelidosaurus harrisonii was reported from the Lower Lias (Hettangian-Sinemurian). This one was found to be comparable to a megalosaur and would therefore be an early member of this group of large theropods that will dominate the Middle Jurassic period.

Finally, a tooth (BMNH 41352) from the Lias group of Lyme Regis, named ‘Megalosaurus’ lydekkeri von Huene, 1926 (= Magnosaurus lydekkeri), is from an indeterminate theropod.


Original artworks on Paleoexhibit are copyrighted to Nobu Tamura. Do not use without permission (Email: nobu dot tamura at yahoo dot com)


References:

C. W. Andrews. 1921. On some remains of a theropodous dinosaur from the Lower Lias of Barrow-on-Soar. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, series 9 8:570-576

M.J. Benton, D.M. Martill & M.A. Taylor, 1995. The first Lower Jurassic dinosaur from Scotland: limb bone of a ceratosaur theropod from Skye. Scottish Journal of Geology, 31, 177–182.

F. v. Huene. 1910. Ein primitiver Dinosaurier aus der mittleren Trias von Elgin [A primitive dinosaur from the Middle Trias of Elgin]. Geologie und Paläontologie Abhandlungen (n.s.) 8(6):317-322.

D. Naish and D. M. Martill. 2007. Dinosaurs of Great Britain and the role of the Geological Society of London in their discovery: basal Dinosauria and Saurischia. Journal of the Geological Society, London 164:493-510.

O. W. M. Rauhut and A. Hungerbühler. 2000. A review of European Triassic theropods. GAIA 15:75-88.

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