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'Dragon Robber' Unearthed In South Wales Represents One Of the Earliest Jurassic Dinosaurs

Jan 21, 2016 10:26 AM EST

A new species of carnivorous dinosaur nicknamed "dragon robber" was recently unearthed in the south of Wales. Its formal name is Dracoraptor hanigani -- and at 201 million years old, it's the oldest-known Jurassic dinosaur recovered from the U.K., researchers revealed in a new study.

The fossils were originally discovered in 2014 at a site called Lavernock Point, near Penarth, Wales. After analyzing the dinosaur's skull, claws, teeth and foot bones, researcher David Martill from the University of Portsmouth, England, and colleagues from National Museum Wales and University of Manchester, determined the creature is a distant relative of the T. rex and likely an agile hunter that lived along a shoreline, according to a news release.

Researchers were initially surprised by the dinosaur's size - it measured just over two feet tall and about 6.5 feet long, which is small for a meat-eating dinosaur. Because of this they suggest the dinosaur may have been a juvenile when it died, as most of its bones were not yet fully formed or fused, either. Even at such a young age, however, the creatures sported a long, slender tail, which researchers say helped with balance.

At 201 million years old, Dracoraptor hanigani comes just after the Triassic period and right at the beginning of the Jurassic period, which ended with an extinction event 65 million years ago. Since not much is known about the early stages of the Jurassic, these fossils are an incredibly valuable find, researchers say.

"The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance," co-author Steven Vidovic added in the release. "Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two meter long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales."

During the time this "dragon robber" roamed the coastal region of south Wales, it was much warmer than it is today. The new specimen represents the most complete theropod from Wales, not to mention the oldest known Jurassic dinosaur recovered from the U.K.

Their findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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