New Dinosaur Species From Early Jurassic Found In Italy

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In the summer of 1996, a paleontology aficionado discovered signs of what appeared to be dinosaur fossils. He found them in some blocks of rock in a quarry on the outskirts of Saltrio, in the Italian province of Varese. The told the Museum of Milan’s representative about the discovery, and the museum organized a survey in the quarry and collected as many rock samples as possible. Now, Italian paleontologists have discovered that these remains belong to a new species of dinosaur, Saltriovenator zanellai, the largest predatory dinosaur of the Early Jurassic, 198 million years ago.

The discovery is truly exceptional since the dinosaur fossils are well-preserved even though they spent an extended period underwater. The bones show feeding marks from marine fauna, indicating that the corpse of the dinosaur floated in a sea basin and then sank to the bottom. It probably remained on the seabed before being buried.

Early Jurassic carnivorous dinosaurs are very rare, and most are small. However, Saltriovenator was large, about 8 meters long, but had not yet reached adulthood, so “its estimated size is even more remarkable in the context of the Early Jurassic period,” says study co-author Simone Maganuco.

New Dinosaur Species Found In Italy Shed More Light On Dinosaurs Evolution Into Birds

“The evolutionary ‘arms race’ between predatory and giant herbivorous dinosaurs, involving progressively larger species, had already begun 200 million years ago,” Simone Maganuco added.

This new dinosaur species also shows various ancient and advanced anatomical features. The evolution of the wing of birds from the hand of their dinosaur ancestors is still much debated. “The hand of Saltriovenator fills a key void in the evolutionary theropod tree: the predatory dinosaurs progressively lost their pinky fingers and ring fingers, and acquired the three-finger hand that is the precursor of the avian wing,” says co-author Andrea Cau. “Three of S. zanellai’s four fingers had powerful claws, which probably served as a terrible weapon,” the researcher added.

This dinosaur also has other distinctive features, such as sharp, serrated teeth. In addition, it was probably covered with filamentous protoplums and had horns in the teardrop near the eyes and nasal bones. Its claws and sharp, sawn teeth would have possibly made it a truly fearsome creature.