Within rocks found in the Lower Cretaceous Wessex Formation dating between 66 and 145 million years, paleontologists excavated a new species of ankylosaur on the Isle of Wight.
The previously unknown giant reptile was dubbed Vectipelta barretti and is the first armored dinosaur found on the British island in over a century. The find shines light on the diversity of the ankylosaur fauna during the early Cretaceous period in England, which was published this month in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
Previously, two other genera of Ankylosauria, or armored dinosaurs, have been found in the Wealden Group of southern England, including Polacanthus and Hylaeosaurus. Both dinosaurs had vegetarian diets and sported characteristic bony plates along their back and flanks and a large club-like tail.
“For virtually 142 years, all ankylosaur remains from the Isle of Wight have been assigned to Polacanthus foxii, a famous dinosaur from the island, now all of those finds need to be revisited because we’ve described this new species,” says Stuart Pond, the study’s lead author and vertebrate paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, in a press release.
The novel spikey ankylosaur was named after influential vertebrae paleontologist Professor Paul Barrett at London’s Natural History Museum.
“Myself and some of the other authors on this study have been mentored or supervised by Paul for most of our careers, and it was notable to us that Paul hadn’t had a dinosaur named after him yet. He’s hugely influential in vertebrate paleontology, and he’s a world-leading authority on dinosaurs,” says Susannah Maidment, a study author and paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, in a press release.
V. barretti would have roamed the Earth during the Early Cretaceous period, about 145 to 100.5 million years ago. Since fossil remains from this epoch are rare worldwide, some experts suspect that a mass extinction occurred at the end of the Jurassic period. Making the Vectipelta remains crucial in understanding if the event occurred and how life recovered after it.
In North America, rocks from the Early Cretaceous period are mostly absent. So, any information about this event will likely be found in the Wessex Formation and the Isle of Wight. The island, millions of years ago, would have had a climate similar to the Mediterranean and had a floodplain supported by extensive winding rivers. Flooding events would have pushed plants, logs and dinosaur corpses together, and as the water receded, the concoction of organic material would gather into isolated ponds that later dried up and preserved the fossils we find today.
Before discovering the new species, all known ankylosaurs were grouped under Polacanthus. The team suspects that Vectipelta is 6 to 8 million years older than Polacanthus and at least three million years younger than Hylaeosaurus. The new dino does not appear to be closely related to the other ankylosaur taxa.
However, using genetic sequencing, scientists found that Vectipelta is more closely related to some Chinese ankylosaurs, Zhejiangosaurus and Dongyangopelta. This suggests that these reptiles trekked freely from Asia to Europe in this period and may have done so using a land bridge across the Turgai Sea between the two continents.
The team suspects more species will be discovered in the area. “We have new iguanodontians that we are lining up to be prepped and to be studied. I think we have at least two new taxa in the collections. With regards to ankylosaurs, they are somewhat rarer, so I think we need to keep our eyes peeled,” Maidment says in a statement. Until then, parts of Vectipelta will be displayed at the Dinosaur Isle Museum on Isle Wight.