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Motherboard

This New Dinosaur Was Europe's Biggest Predator

If Jurassic Park was set in Europe, T. gurneyi would have to have the starring role.

by Victoria Turk
Mar 6 2014, 12:00pm
Reconstruction of Torvosaurus gurneyi in its environment. Image: Sergey Krasovskiy 

A new dinosaur has been identified and it’s a real beast, winning the title of largest terrestrial predator in Europe. Torvosaurus gurneyi would have been around 10 metres long and weighed in at four or five tonnes, with teeth of 10cm perfect for chowing down on other dinosaurs unfortunate enough to cross its path.

Basically, if Jurassic Park was set in Europe, T. gurneyi would have to have the starring role.

The discovery was made by Portuguese researchers Christophe Hendrickx and Octávio Mateus, who published their work in PLOS One. Amateur collector Aart Wallen first discovered the dinosaur fossils in 2003, in the cliffs of Lourinhã, a known fossil hotspot in northern Portugal. 

While only two fragments were found, one was fortunately a bone in the jaw called the maxilla, which is the largest bone in a dinosaur’s skull and therefore very informative. They determined it to be the “largest known carnivorous dinosaur in Europe,” and that it lived 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period. 

It stood on two feet like a T. rex, had a four-feet-long skull filled with blade-shaped teeth, and might have been covered in protofeathers.

It's big. Image: Scott Hartman and Carol Abraczinskas 

In information provided by email, Hendrickx explained that its size really is remarkable. “Jurassic theropods tend to be medium sized (i.e., 2-5 m in average) and large Jurassic theropods were only known in the latest stages of the Jurassic (Kimmeridgian – Tithonian) in North America,” he said.  “This new species of Torvosaurus, which is estimated to reach 10 meters long, indicates that large theropod dinosaurs also existed in the European archipelagos by the end of the Jurassic.”

It’s not a whole new genus, as a type of Torvosaurus was already known to exist—but only in North America. Initially this was presumed to be a Torvosaurus tanneri, but Hendrickx and Mateus noticed some key differences in its teeth. They named the new species Torvosaurus gurneyi as a nod to Dinotopia writer and illustrator James Gurney, who they call “an excellent paleoartist and a tremendous pedagogue in the world of art.”

The fact that distinct species of Torvosaurus have been identified in American and Europe suggests that they shared a common ancestor from before the two continents were entirely separated. “Some temporary land bridge must have existed a few million years before,” said Mateus. “Just in time to allow a common ancestor to both species of Torvosaurus to cross the sea, but with enough time to evolve into two different species.”

The maxilla fossil. Image: Image Aart Walen

Of course, there’s one main question to be asked with the discovery of an awesomely huge carnivorous theropod: how does it compare to everyone’s favourite dino-predator, Tyrannosaurus rex?

The T. gurneyi would have been a little smaller than the T. rex, which measures in at around two metres longer, but there’s actually no real competition, as the T. rex wasn’t around until 80 million years later, during the Cretaceous period. If you nonetheless fancy pitting them against each other in an imaginary dinosaur fight club, know that T. gurney had sharper teeth, which one expert graphically described as indicating a “slash-shred strategy;” T. rex had banana-shaped teeth more appropriate for bone crushing and popping Triceratops' heads off like soda cans. 

In its own epoch, T. gurneyi would have been top of the food chain this side of the Atlantic, out-measuring the Allosaurus. 

As Hendrickx rather understatedly told Reuters, “It was indeed better not to cross the way of this large, carnivorous dinosaur.”