Scientists have named the ancient reptile Brighstoneus simmondsi, believed to be from the Lower Cretaceous period, about 125 million years ago. The genus Brightstoneous was named after Brightstone, an English town close to the excavation site. Simmondsi is a nod to amateur collector Keith Simmonds, who found the specimens.
Simmonds originally found the bones in 1978 on the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England. The specimens were stored in the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown on the Isle of Wight until they were examined over 40 years later for a different study.
“It’s quite common, if not more common, these days to discover new dinosaurs in museum basements rather than out in the field,” said study author Jeremy Lockwood, a doctoral student at London’s Natural History Museum and University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.
At the time, Lockwood was conducting research on the diversity of large plant-eating iguanodontian dinosaurs, which included the Iguanodon and Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis, the most common dinosaur fossil specimens found so far on the island.
An accidental discovery
After closely examining the bones, Lockwood realized he had a new species of dinosaur on his hands.
Both the Iguanodon and Mantellisaurus had a straight, flat nose while the Brighstoneus had a rounded one, he said. Brighstoneus also had more teeth, which were designed for chewing, Lockwood added.
In the Lower Cretaceous period, grass and flowering plants were not widely available, so the dinosaur likely had to eat tough plants like pine needles and ferns, he said.
Using the thigh and femur bones, scientists estimated the dinosaur was about 26 feet (8 meters) long and weighed around 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms).
Prior to this discovery, scientists designated all delicate bones found on the island as Mantellisaurus while larger bones were categorized as Iguanodon.
“Brighstoneus shows that there was greater diversity in the Lower Cretaceous iguanodontians than we realized,” Lockwood said.
The Brighstoneus specimens were also 4 million years older than the Mantellisaurus bones, so one could argue that they are unlikely the same species due to the long length of time between the two, he noted.
Some of the features of the bones, such as the jawline, are unique to Brightstoneus, said Matthew McCurry, curator of paleontology at Sydney’s Australian Museum and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, who was not involved in the study.
The longer jaw was able to hold 28 teeth, a few more than any other closely related species, McCurry said.
Lockwood is interested in researching if dinosaur diversity fluctuated over time or if it stayed the same over the course of 1 million years.
Dinosaur bones can also reveal what Earth was like millions of years ago, McCurry said.
“Describing new species of dinosaurs is the first step in piecing together what these past ecosystems looked like and in learning about how they changed over time,” he said.
The study naming Brighstoneus simmondsi was published Wednesday in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.