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A dinky dinosaur around the size of a chicken is the oldest of its kind to be found in the United Kingdom.
Found in a Welsh quarry, the newly identified dinosaur species is a theropod – a group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds. About a meter (or 3.28 feet) long – including its tail – it would have lived about 200 to 215 million years ago, at the dawn of dinosaur evolution.
“Pendraig milnerae lived near the beginning of the evolution of the meat-eating dinosaurs. It’s clear from the bones we have that it was a meat-eater, but early in the evolution of this group these animals were quite small, in contrast to the very famous meat-eating dinosaurs like T. rex which evolved much later,” said Stephan Spiekman, a research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London and lead author of a new study on the findings, in a news release.
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The name “Pendraig” means “chief dragon” in Middle Welsh, and it’s a reference to dinosaur’s likely role as an apex predator of the area and its discovery in Wales. “Milnerae” honors Angela Milner, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum who passed away on August 13.
The Natural History Museum noted in a news release that Milner was instrumental in relocating the fossil, which was originally studied in the 1980s and wrongly classified as a different dinosaur.
“I told Angela that I couldn’t find the specimen, and so she went away and about three hours later she had it,” said Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher in paleobiology at the museum who worked with Milner, in a statement.
“She found it in a drawer with crocodile material. She must have had the specimen in her mind’s eye from when she had previously looked through that drawer. This paper would not have been possible without her.
“Angela was really important in the Museum for many years, she was not only the premier dinosaur researcher but also in a senior administrative position as Deputy Keeper of Palaeontology when women didn’t generally occupy such roles in the Museum, so for me as a student it was really important,” added Maidment, who was also an author of the study.
The creature could also shed light on dwarfism – an evolutionary phenomenon often seen on islands, where species tend to be smaller than their mainland-dwelling counterparts. However, the study’s findings were not conclusive in that respect.
“The area where these specimens were found was most likely an island during the time period in which it lived,” Spiekman said.
“Because the fossil reptiles from this area, including Pendraig, are all quite small-sized, we used statistical analyses to investigate whether Pendraig might have been an insular dwarf. The results indicate that Pendraig is indeed small, even for a theropod of that time period, but not uniquely so.”