A University of Manchester lecturer who classified a new species of dinosaur discovered two years ago has hailed the discovery as being valuable to science.
Dr John Nudds, the university’s senior lecturer in palaeontology, was part of a four-strong team that were tasked with identifying the Dracoraptor hanigani discovered in Penarth, South Wales, in 2014.
The new Welsh dinosaur was a very distant cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex and lived at the beginning of the Jurassic period, some 201 million years ago.
Dr Nudds told MM: “I was very excited when I got the call because this was an extremely rare find.
“Dinosaur fossils are never common to find in the UK but to find something new that hasn’t been described before, that’s the really rare thing.”
The name Dracoraptor means ‘dragon thief’, a nod to the national symbol of Wales while ‘hanigani’ honours those that found the fossils, Preston-born Nick Hanigan and his brother Rob.
According to Dr Nudds, a palaeontologist with 40 years’ worth of experience, a new species of dinosaur is discovered every year, with China emerging as the new fossil hotspot due to further development and exploration of the country.
Domestic discoveries have been a rare occurrence, with the Dracoraptor being only the fourth completely new species to be found in the UK since 1980.
So, the UK has the oldest Jurassic dinosaur in the world found so far – surely something to brag about?
“It certainly does give us bragging rights!” Dr Nudds admitted.
“There’s an awful lot of fossils from later on in the period where the dinosaurs really start to diversify and evolve quickly but few from the time in which this dinosaur lived.
“This dinosaur is important because it will tell us a lot about what was happening with dinosaur evolution at that time.”
Having the authority to name a new species of dinosaur will have undoubtedly pleased Dr Nudds, whose passion for his field apparently stemmed from seeing and collecting his own fossils on a family holiday in Derbyshire in his youth.
However according to the UoM lecturer, the process of naming the ‘dragon thief’ – ‘lleidr y ddraig’ in Welsh – was a simple one with little mystery behind it.
There are certain rules that must be adhered to, such as the name having to be completely original or else it risks being ruled as ‘invalid’, as well as the requirement of its name to be ‘Latinised’.
Dr Nudds said: “As the four authors on this paper we literally sit around the table with a cup of tea or a pint and throw a few names into a hat.
“I think an early suggestion was Morganaraptor (after Glamorgan, the county in which it was found) but other people didn’t really like it.
“We had a few facetious ones like Boyosaurus but I think having the Welsh dragon in there was quite appropriate.”
The dinosaur’s fossils, consisting of its skull, claws, teeth and foot bones, are now back on display at the National Museum in Cardiff.
Image courtesy of B Nicholls, with thanks