An ancient relative of the velociraptor, Vectiraptor greeni lived in the Early Cretaceous, 125 million years ago.
“This was a large, and very heavily constructed animal,” says Dr Nick Longrich, who led the study from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. “The bones are thick-walled and massive. It clearly didn’t hunt small prey, but animals as large or larger than itself.”
The researchers write that “Vectiraptor resembles Early Cretaceous eudromaeosaurs from North America, suggesting a faunal exchange between Europe and North America,” showing a possibility that there had been contact between Europe and North America when the animal lived, during the Early Cretaceous epoch, between 130 and 125 million years ago.
The authors, whose article was published in the journal Cretaceous Research, say that the diverse Early Cretaceous dinosaur assemblage found in England and Europe “resulted from dispersal from North America, Asia, and West Gondwana, likely involving both land bridges and oceanic dispersal. Europe served as a biotic crossroads in the Early Cretaceous, allowing faunal interchange between landmasses.”
Vectiraptor greeni is named after amateur palaeontologist Mick Green, who came across the bones after they became washed from the rocks on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. He discovered the dinosaur in 2004 but, according to a news release, “didn’t appreciate the importance of his find until he was forced by ill-health to stop collecting fossils in 2012.”
Green then started working on removing the bones from the hard ironstone surrounding them, and when he met up with Isle of Wight palaeontologist Megan Jacobs from the University of Portsmouth and Dr Longrich one day over beer, he showed them the remains.The pair looked over the bones and ended up finding similar characteristics to other raptors.
Green handed over the bones to be examined further, and the rest, as they say, is history: Vectiraptor greeni “turned out to represent a new genus and species.” Green has donated his namesake dinosaur to the Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown on the Isle of Wight.
Vectiraptor greeni is thought to be an older, more heavily built, relative of the predator Velociraptor. The “fearsome” animal was not as big as we imagine dinosaurs to be – in fact it was on the smaller side, about the size of a wolf, and approximately 3 metres long, from nose to tail. The researchers believe, the news release notes, it would use “huge slashing talons on its feet to dispatch its prey.” Its finely serrated sharp teeth were then used to bite off pieces of the kill, perhaps, as Dr Longrich points out, even larger than itself.
“It’s a tantalising hint at the diversity of dinosaurs in England at this time,” says Dr Longrich.
This is the first time a large raptor has been found in the UK, the release notes. “There’s an extraordinary diversity of dinosaurs known in England in the Cretaceous, and even after more than a century of study, we continue to find new species,” says Dr Longrich. “Although palaeontologists have been studying these dinosaurs for a long time, it’s hard going. We have to wait for the sea cliffs to fall and expose bits of bone, or for the waves to wash them out of the rocks. We’ve spent two centuries on the Isle of Wight piecing together our picture of English dinosaurs.”
“This dinosaur is incredibly exciting, adding to the huge diversity of dinosaurs here on the Isle of Wight, and helping to build a bigger picture of the Early Cretaceous world,” says Megan Jacobs. “This little dinosaur also serves as an excellent example of the importance of amateur fossil collectors, and how working with them can produce important scientific research, which would otherwise not be possible.”
Without the dedication of Mick Green and others on the island, she notes, this dinosaur would have been lost to the sea.