EGU Blogs


New dinosaur competes to be Europe’s largest ever land predator

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Say hello to Torvosaurus gurneyi, the newly discovered theropod dinosaur that lived in Europe around 157-145 million years ago. It is potentially the largest land predator discovered in Europe and one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs from the late Jurassic period. The identification of this new species plays an important role in developing our understanding of how different dinosaur species were distributed across the globe, as well as the ecology of large European predators at this time.

Similar in appearance to the North American species Torvosaurus tanneri, the remains found in Portugal were initially regarded as near-identical to them. But closer scrutiny and greater knowledge of the anatomy of theropod dinosaurs has led to several key features being identified in the new species.

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Erlikosaurus, the little dinosaur experiment

The evolutionary line from theropod dinosaurs is absolute. There is no question that this is one of the greatest stories that life on Earth has ever told us, But evolution is not linear; it’s chaotic. It’s bizarre. Along this theropod line, dinosaurs were experimenting – they were the evolutionary scientists of their time.

One of the weirdest things that theropods did was become herbivores again – this is exceptionally odd when we consider that they’re the cousins of epic carnivores like Tyrannosaurus and Deinonychus.

Therizinosaurs were one of these groups of hipster dinosaurs. Not content with a life dining on raw steak, they actually estranged themselves and became ecological innovators, eventually turning herbivorous.

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How do the chemical ghosts of dinosaurs help their preservation?

For some years now, Mary Schweitzer and her team have been researching the idea that organic molecules can be preserved for millions of years, specifically within dinosaurs. They have used a plethora of chemical and biotechnological techniques to demonstrate that, within animals like Tyrannosaurus rex, it is possible to find the residue of structures such as blood vessels and even proteins. Naturally, her research has been met with a whole wad of stiff resistance from the scientific community, seemingly for no other reason than “We don’t like the sound of that..”. Scientific rigour ftw!

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Your poop or mine?

Back in the Mesozoic, lavatories probably didn’t exist. In fact, dinosaurs and other animals were probably pretty poorly mannered and just pooped wherever they felt like. But what or who cleaned up after them? In modern biomes, poop is decomposed by insects and bacteria of all breeds, and actually forms quite an important part of energy flow within ecosystems. But was it the same million of years ago during the reign of the dinosaurs?

Imagine a natural world without decomposers. Carcasses would litter landscapes, and there’d be a neat smattering of faeces decorating everything like jam. Humans have adapted beyond this need for decomposers by creating the loo – dinosaurs weren’t so technologically efficient, and one can only imagine the issues T. rex would have trying to flush anyway.

T rex poop

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