Scientists have discovered what they believe to be a new species of theropod dinosaur — making it a close relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex. A group of researchers said they recently uncovered rare bones in the U.K. that appear to be related to the iconic species.
Paleontologists at the University of Southampton said they recently analyzed four bones on the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of mainland England. The bones are from the neck, back and tail of the new dinosaur, named Vectaerovenator inopinatus.
The Vectaerovenator inopinatus, which is believed to have grown to around 13 feet long, roamed the Earth during the Cretaceous period, about 115 million years ago. Scientists believe it is a theropod, a group of carnivorous dinosaurs that typically walked on two legs rather than four.
The dinosaur was named for the large spaces of air in some of its bones — a trait that helped scientists connect it to theropods, the researchers said. The "air sacs," which are also found in modern-day birds, were extensions of the animals' lungs that likely aided in breathing while making the skeleton lighter.
"We were struck by just how hollow this animal was — it's riddled with air spaces," lead author Chris Barker, a PhD student at the university, said in a press release. "Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate."
Researchers said all of the fossils found are likely to be from the same individual animal, belonging to a previously unknown genus of dinosaur. They called the discovery a "rare find."
"The record of theropod dinosaurs from the 'mid' Cretaceous period in Europe isn't that great, so it's been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time," Barker said.
The university said the bones were discovered in 2019 by individuals and families, all of whom donated their findings to the nearby dinosaur museum.
"The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic," Robin Ward, an amateur fossil hunter who found one of the fossils, told the university. "I thought they were special and so took them along when we visited Dinosaur Isle Museum. They immediately knew these were something rare and asked if we could donate them to the museum to be fully researched."
"It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past," James Lockyer, who found another one of the fossils, told the university. "I was searching a spot at Shanklin and had been told and read that I wouldn't find much there. However, I always make sure I search the areas others do not, and on this occasion, it paid off."
The new fossils will be displayed at the Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown on the Isle of White, which is well-known as one of the best locations in Europe to find dinosaur remains. The researchers' findings will be published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.