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Scientists discover bones of two new dinosaur species — including a "horned crocodile-faced hell heron"

Scientists have discovered two new species of large, predatory dinosaurs with "unusual, crocodile-like skulls" on England's Isle of Wight. The dinosaurs are believed to be species of spinosaurids, and are the first skeletons of the dinosaur family to be uncovered in the United Kingdom since 1983.

The two new species are related to an ancient "unusual and controversial" family of dinosaurs, according to a report by paleontologists at the University of Southampton that was published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday.  

The first, Ceratosuchops inferodios, which means "horned crocodile-faced hell heron," has a head filled with low horns and bumps along its brow region, scientists found, and is believed to have had a hunting style similar to a "terrifying heron." 

The second discovery, Riparovenator milnerae, which means "Milner's riverbank hunter," is similar to that of the Ceratosuchops inferodios and has a long tail and a crocodile-like snout. It was named in honor of British paleontologist Angela Milner who died on August 13. Milner is credited with naming the new species' closest relative, the Baryonyx dinosaur. 

Artists' impression of newly identified species. Anthony Hutchings/University of Southampton

The skeletons are still incomplete, but based on the tail and cranial fossils found so far, researchers believe both dinosaurs were about nine meters long — more than 29 feet. Their skulls were roughly a meter long — more than 3 feet. 

Study co-author David Horne said it's "very common" for "similar and closely related" carnivores to have lived in the same ecosystem.

"The Early Cretaceous rocks on the Isle of Wight describe an ancient floodplain environment bathed in a Mediterranean-like climate. Whilst generally balmy, forest fires occasionally ravaged the landscape, and the remains of burnt wood can be seen throughout the cliffs today," the University of Southampton said in a press release. "With a large river and other bodies of water attracting dinosaurs and housing various fish, sharks and crocodiles, the habitat provided the newly discovered spinosaurids with plenty of hunting opportunities."

The new dinosaurs are believed to be from the Cretaceous period, with the bones estimated to be more than 125 million years old, scientists said in a press release. Their research suggests spinosaurids may have first evolved in Europe before migrating to Asia, Africa and South America. 

Isle of Wight is commonly known as "Dinosaur Island," as fossils can be easily found along its beaches. 

Discovered brain case of the Ceratosuchops inferodios, which translates as the "horned crocodile-faced hell heron." Chris Barker/University of Southampton

In fact, it was a simple discovery on these beaches by two fossil collectors that ignited the hunt to identify the new species. In 2013, the University of Southampton said, fossil collectors found parts of two skulls near the isle's Brighstone Beach. Soon after, members of Dinosaur Isle Museum found a large portion of a tail, and now, more than 50 bones have been found, scientists said. 

"This is the rarest and most exciting find I've made in over 30 years of fossil collection," Brian Foster, one of the collectors, said in a statement. 

Jeremy Lockwood, who also found some of the fossils, said, "We realized after the two snouts were found that this would be something rare and unusual. Then it just got more and more amazing as several collectors found and donated other parts of this enormous jigsaw to the museum."

But scientists have long had a hunch that there were other spinosaur species out there. 

"We've known for a couple of decades now that Bryonyx-like dinosaurs awaited discovered on the Isle of Wight," said study co-author Darren Naish in a statement, "but finding the remains of two such animals in close succession was a huge surprise." 

The last and only time a spinosaurid skeleton had been uncovered in the U.K., researchers said, was in 1983. Aside from that skeleton, which was deemed to be that of a Baryonyx, researchers have only come across isolated teeth. 

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