Thursday, March 22, 2012

Theropods of the British Isles Part II

 Middle Jurassic Theropods of the British Isles

The Middle Jurassic of England was dominated by Megalosaurids, a family of large primitive tetanuran theropods, now believed to be closely related to the fish-eating Spinosaurids, early representatives of groups that will thrive during the Cretaceous, the tyrannosauroids and the maniraptorans were also present.

Fig 1.- Duriavenator hesperis

The Aalenian-Bajocian stages: Magnosaurus and Duriavenator

The Inferior Oolite formation of Aalenian-Bajocian age (~ 172 MYA) has given a few fragmentary remains of a theropod named Magnosaurus nethercombensis (von Huene, 1923) (originally ‘Megalosaurus’ nethercombensis) and described from partial dentaries, vertebrae, partial ilium, pubis and hindlimb (OUM J12143) found in Nethercomb, Dorset. Various others bits from the same formation in southern England were also referred to this rather obscure tetanuran. The fossil of M. nethercombensis has recently been reevaluated (Benson, 2010) and established to be a valid taxon. This megalosaurid is the oldest known tetanuran.

From the Upper Inferior Oolite Formation of Bajocian age (~ 170 MYA) comes Duriavenator hesperis (Waldman, 1974) (originally Megalosaurus hesperis), known from cranial bones (BMNH R332) found near Sherbourne in Dorset. This is another megalosaurid.

Fig 2.- Megalosaurus bucklandii

The Bathonian stage: Megalosaurus  and Proceratosaurus

The Bathonian age  (~166 MYA) of the British Isles is represented by a handful of theropods. The most famous of them is Megalosaurus, a name coined by William Buckland in 1824 to describe various remains including a lower jaw, vertebrae and partial hindlimbs uncovered at the Stonesfield quarry (Taynton Limestone Formation) that he thought belonged to a giant lizard-like creature. As many of the names from the early days of paleontology, Megalosaurus became a formidable wastebasket taxon, given to an assortment of miscellaneous theropod bones found around the world. Nowadays, only one species, Megalosaurus bucklandii Mantell, 1827 is considered valid and corresponds to the original material described by Buckland. Megalosaurus was a large 9 meter long theropod that was probably the top land predator of its time.

Cruxicheiros newmanorum Benson & Bradley, 2010 from the Chipping Norton Limestone Formation of lower Bathonian age, is based on scant materials, including a partial right femur (WARMS G15770) and other bits found on the same location near Little Crompton, Warwickshire. This one was a basal tetanuran of some sort. A single damaged vertebra found in the same formation but now lost, was named Streptospondylus cuvieri Owen, 1842.

Iliosuchus incognitus von Huene, 1932 from the Taynton Limestone Formation (Bathonian) of Stonesfield, Oxfordshire is known from three small ilia (BMNH R83, OUM J29780 and OUM J28971) found alongside remains of Megalosaurus. It is unclear what it was, either a small megalosaurid or the earliest known tyrannosauroid as some have suggested. A fragmentary small tibia found in the same formation was referred to Iliosuchus as well.

Fig 3.- Proceratosaurus bradleyi

Proceratosaurus bradleyi (Woodward, 1910) from the Great Oolite Group (White Limestone Formation) of Minchinhampon, Gloucestershire (Bathonian) is known from a partial skull exhibiting a nasal horn (which was possibly part of a larger crest), thus the name. This is an early tyrannosauroid, a member of this group of coelurosaurs, which will culminate into the North American Tyrannosaurus rex at the end of the Cretaceous period. Proceratosaurus perhaps measured about 3 meters in length.

From the Forest Marble Formation of Bathonian age, famous for its fossils of the sauropod Cetiosaurus, some troodont-like and dromaeosaur-like teeth have been unearthed, making it the earliest occurrence of this group in the fossil record (Evans & Milner, 1994).

The Callovian stage: Eustreptospondylus

Later in the Middle Jurassic (Callovian stage, ~163 MYA), lived another Megalosaurid named Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis Walker, 1964. This one is known from a partial skull (OUM J13558) and a partial skeleton from a juvenile individual found in Wolvercote, Oxfordshire, at the bottom of the Oxford Clay Formation. This rather obscure species was popularized in one episode of the BBC Series “walking with dinosaurs”. It probably measured something like 5 m in length.


R. B. J. Benson. 2008. A redescription of 'Megalosaurus' hesperis (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Inferior Oolite (Bajocian, Middle Jurassic) of Dorset, United Kingdom. Zootaxa 1931:57-67

R. B. J. Benson, 2010, The osteology of Magnosaurus nethercombensis (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of the United Kingdom and a re examination of the oldest records of tetanurans, Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 8(1): 131-146.

S. E. Evans and A. R. Milner. 1994. Middle Jurassic microvertebrate assemblages from the British Isles. In the Shadow of the Dinosaurs: Early Mesozoic Tetrapods, N. C. Fraser and H.-D. Sues (eds.), Cambridge University Press 303-321

F. von Huene, F. 1923. Carnivorous Saurischia in Europe since the Triassic. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 34:449-458.

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.

R. Sadleir, P. M. Barrett, and H. P. Powell. 2008. The anatomy and systematics of Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis, a theropod dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Oxfordshire, England. Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society, London 160(627):1-82

M. Waldman. 1974. Megalosaurids from the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Dorset. Palaeontology 17(2):325-339.

A. D. Walker. 1964. Triassic reptiles from the Elgin area: Ornithosuchus and the origin of carnosaurs. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences 248:53-134