Peculiarly Peculiar: Scientists Uncover Yet Another New Dinosaur Species on the Isle of Wight

Researchers have recently unveiled the discovery of a previously unknown species of small herbivorous dinosaur on the Isle of Wight in southern England, shedding light on a distinctive group of these creatures that thrived in Europe, separate from their counterparts in Asia and North America. This newfound species, named Vectidromeus insularis, marks the second hypsilophodont family member found on the Isle of Wight, indicating the existence of a unique lineage of diminutive herbivorous dinosaurs in Europe.

Hypsilophodonts, agile bipedal herbivores that roamed the Earth around 125 million years ago, coexisted with early tyrannosaurs, spinosaurs, and Iguanodon. The recently discovered fossil, belonging to a juvenile individual roughly the size of a chicken, hints at the potential for much larger adult specimens. Vectidromeus is closely related to Hypsilophodon foxii, a dinosaur initially described in the Victorian era and recognized as one of the first dinosaurs characterized from relatively complete remains. These slender, bird-like dinosaurs were utilized by the renowned scientist Thomas Henry Huxley as evidence supporting the connection between birds and dinosaurs.

Notably, Hypsilophodon has also been found on the Isle of Wight, but in higher rock strata, suggesting a divergence in age from Vectidromeus by approximately two or three million years. Differences in the specifics of their hip bones indicate that Vectidromeus is a closely related yet distinct species.

Dr. Nicholas Longrich, who led the study at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, remarked on the ongoing significance of paleontological research on the Isle of Wight. Erosion from the sea continues to unveil new fossils from the cliffs, revealing more about the dinosaur fauna over time.

The Cretaceous rock layers on the Isle of Wight, several hundred meters thick and potentially spanning several million years, add to the complexity of understanding the evolving ecosystems and the diverse species that inhabited them. The exact age of these strata remains a subject of scientific debate, further complicating the timeline of dinosaur evolution in this region.

This remarkable discovery emerged from a collaborative effort involving the University of Bath, the University of Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight Dinosaur Museum in Sandown, and local fossil enthusiasts. Dr. Longrich emphasized the importance of collaboration with the amateur community, given their invaluable knowledge of rock formations, geology, and the characteristics of the unearthed fossils.

Professor Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth highlighted the unusual frequency of dinosaur discoveries on the Isle of Wight, including Vectidromeus as the seventh new species identified in just four years. This success largely owes itself to the contributions of amateur collectors.

Over time, numerous small herbivorous dinosaurs were initially classified within the hypsilophodont family. However, subsequent revisions to the dinosaur family tree have repositioned many of them into different branches, leaving Hypsilophodon as the sole representative. The discovery of Vectidromeus adds a new dimension to this family, creating a situation where two species are now known.

Dr. Longrich reflected on the intriguing aspect of these European hypsilophodonts, which display distant relationships to their counterparts in North America, Asia, and the southern hemisphere. The evolving understanding of how these dinosaurs are connected and how they migrated between continents after the breakup of Pangaea continues to be an ongoing puzzle.

Dr. Martin Munt, curator of Dinosaur Isle Museum, expressed excitement about the continuous stream of discoveries on the Isle of Wight and the fruitful collaboration among collectors, researchers, and the museum. It is anticipated that this newfound dinosaur species will be on public display at the museum during the October school holidays, further enriching the understanding of prehistoric life on the island.

[Reference: “Vectidromeus insularis, a new hypsilophodontid dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight, England” by Nicholas R. Longrich, David M. Martill, Martin Munt, Mick Green, Mark Penn, and Shaun Smith, published on September 13, 2023, in Cretaceous Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2023.105707]

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