By Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter, Jul 1, 2006
A FISHING dinosaur whose fossilised bones were discovered in Surrey could have spawned the biggest meat- eaters to walk the Earth.
Baryonyx remains were found in Ockley in 1983, and recent analysis has led to a reassessment of life in Britain 125 million years ago. An estimated 10 per cent of teeth originally thought to have belonged to ancient crocodiles and kept at the Natural History Museum, in London, have been reidentified as belonging to Baryonyx.
Further fossil finds on the Isle of Wight and in Spain, Thailand and Africa, have shown that the species and its descendants ruled lake, river and coastal regions for 45 million years. A 7ft-long skull recovered in Africa has been identified as belonging to Spinosaurus, a direct descendant of Baryonyx.
It may have been the biggest meat-eater yet, but scientists cannot be sure because none of its body has been located. By comparison, Gigantosaurus, the biggest confirmed land meat-eater, had a 6ft skull.
“Baryonyx is probably the ancestor of the biggest meat-eating dinosaur but we can’t be sure,” said Angela Milner, of the museum, who helped to excavate and study the remains. “The discovery of Baryonyx has led to the reinterpretation of a lot of remains in the rest of the world.
“We’ve found many of the teeth finds going back to early Victorian times now turn out not to be crocodiles but this animal. The sheer number of remains suggests that Baryonyx wasn’t as uncommon as we thought.”
She was speaking on the eve of the opening today of an interactive exhibition, Dino Jaws, at the museum. The centrepiece is a life-size, animatronic re-creation of the Baryonyx. The fossils remain out of the public eye where scientists continue to analyse them. There is also a virtual fossil dig, animatronic dinosaurs to show how body design was suited to diet, and remains such as copralites — fossilised faeces — for children to examine.
The Home Counties Baryonyx was about 35ft long and an adolescent. Fully grown it is thought to have been 50ft long, weighing more than two tonnes. It was a fish-eating dinosaur that would have caught its prey by scooping it out of shallow water. The dinosaur’s natural environment would have been lakesides, river banks and the sea shore.
The discovery of an almost identical dinosaur in Thailand has led scientists to reassess the dates when Asia and Europe were joined, because the two continents were thought to be separated by sea at the time.
Dr Milner said: “The same creature was living in Spain and there was a very closely related animal in Thailand. That was a big surprise. It gives us biogeographers problems to which we haven’t found an answer yet.”