Scientists in the Spanish province of Castellon have made a remarkable discovery, unearthing the partial skeleton of a previously unknown dinosaur species. This finding has shed light on the characteristics of spinosaurs, a highly successful group of carnivorous dinosaurs known for their ability to inhabit both land and water. The newly found dinosaur, named Protathlitis cinctorrensis, existed approximately 126-127 million years ago and measured around 10-11 meters in length, weighing about 2 tonnes.
Spinosaurs are recognized as the largest known carnivorous dinosaurs. Belonging to a larger group called theropods, which encompasses all meat-eating dinosaurs, spinosaurs coexisted with notable species such as the tyrannosaurus genus from North America, the Giganotosaurus genus from South America, and carnivorous birds. The Protathlitis specimen was described based on a partial skeleton, which included the right upper jawbone, one tooth, and five vertebrae.
The discovery site has also yielded other fascinating dinosaur fossils, including a large, long-necked quadrupedal plant-eater, two smaller bipedal plant-eaters, and another theropod that was smaller than Protathlitis. The newly discovered dinosaur species shares a close relationship with Baryonyx, another dinosaur unearthed in England during the 1980s. Both species possess elongated skulls compared to other meat-eating dinosaurs. However, unlike Baryonyx, no limb remains of Protathlitis was found, preventing confirmation of the presence of a large claw on its first finger.
Protathlitis inhabited a coastal region along the Tethys Sea, an ancient ocean that included the present-day Mediterranean Sea. Unlike some spinosaurs believed to have been semi-aquatic and primarily fish hunters, Protathlitis had a different hunting strategy. The species roamed the coastal region, indicating a distinct ecological niche. Spinosaurs were widespread during the Cretaceous Period, existing in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. However, due to the scarcity of their fossils, scientists are still unraveling their early history and global dispersion.
This recent discovery supports the idea that two lineages of spinosaurs, those closely related to Baryonyx and those related to spinosaurus, occupied western Europe during the early Cretaceous Period before migrating to Africa and Asia, where they experienced further diversification. The dominance of Baryonyx relatives in Europe and the prevalence of spinosaurus relatives in Africa are notable findings. These insights contribute to our understanding of the evolution and distribution of spinosaurs during the age of dinosaurs.
The uncovered partial skeleton of Protathlitis cinctorrensis in Spain represents a significant step forward in our knowledge of spinosaurs and their place in prehistoric ecosystems. Further research and discoveries in this field will continue to enhance our understanding of these fascinating creatures that once roamed the Earth.