Tuesday, June 6

‘Champion’, a new dinosaur on the peninsula with a soccer name

Around 126 million years ago, in what is now the Arcillas de Morella formation, in Castellón, lived a dinosaur between 10 and 11 meters long. It was a predator of the family of spinosauridsa carnivore that moved on two legs with an imposing presence and a height of more than three meters.

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The discovery is detailed this Thursday in an article by Magazine Scientific Reports, in which Andrés Santos-Cubedo and his team describe the analysis of a bone from the right jaw, a tooth and five vertebrae that has led them to the conclusion that it is a new species. “We have been at this site since 2002,” he explains, “and in eight campaigns we have collected almost a thousand fossils, some of dinosaurs and others of vertebrates of the time, such as crocodiles.”

Two years ago they found the pieces that are now described and it was surprising, because it is much less frequent to find one of these predators. “Predators are very scarce, the most abundant are herbivores, as happens in current ecosystems,” says Santos-Cubedo. “Apart from the fact that it is difficult because there are few of them, whenever it is a new dinosaur it provides interesting data; In all of Spain there are only about 30 new species of dinosaurs defined for science”.

In the case of the new specimen, it is a spinosaurid that, unlike the most famous member of the group that appears in the film Jurassic Park, does not present a displayed sail on the spine. “There are two groups, the spinosaurines and the baryonychines”, specifies the researcher. “The latter do not have a sail, but they are the same, they have an elongated snout, teeth like those of crocodiles, and they walk on their hind legs.” The difference between the two groups is that baryonychines, like the newly identified species, have twice as many teeth, and that is one of the characteristics that has allowed them to classify them. “And there is more material to prepare that we think is from the same individual, but we have to confirm it,” he advances.

A tribute to Villarreal

The picturesque side of this discovery is that the lead researcher is a big football fan and, since it is a dinosaur discovered in Castellón, he has named the new species after his team, Villarreal CF. Specifically, the species will be called ‘Protathlitis cinctorrensis‘, something like ‘champion of girdles‘, the town next to which the site is located.

“The thing about protathlitis (champion) is because, of the four people that make up the research group, three of us are from Villarreal, and the year we started the study was the final in Gdansk, when he won the UEFA Europa League”, explains Santos-Cubedo, who recalls that 2023 is also the centenary of the club.

Three of the four team members are from Villarreal and the year we started the study they won the UEFA Europa League

Andrés Santos-Cubedo

The homage to Villarreal’s team has also led to the dinosaur’s illustrations being made in the team’s color, yellow, although the authors have no information about the pigments of its skin. “It was a wink from the illustrator,” admits Santos-Cubedo. “It is not the first paleontological discovery that pays homage to soccer,” he recalls. “A few years ago, a team named as Iniestapodus burgensis to a new type of fossil traces, due to Iniesta’s goal that made us world champions”. At the moment they do not have a first name for the specimen, but “we still do a popular vote,” he jokes.

The finding will be announced at El Villarreal CF, at a press conference this Friday in which its president will be present, but, according to the authors of the work to elDiario.es, the collaboration is disinterested and no type of sponsorship has mediated. “The club has only collaborated with the transfer of the spaces of the Ceramic stadium and the production of a small video and the silhouette of the dinosaur for the act”, assures Santos-Cubedo.

A competitor in La Rioja

Xabier Pereda, a paleontologist at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU), is a member of the team that discovered the most complete remains of a spinosaurid on the peninsula last year. In their case, they have a practically entire arm, the lower jaw with some teeth, several vertebrae, a femur, a tibia and some fragment of the pelvis. Like the one in Castellón, it is also a baryonychin (without a sail) and its size is between 6 and 7 meters in length, although it lived about 6 million years later.

“The new Morella spinosaurus is the fourth genus and species to be described in the peninsula,” explains Pereda. “And ours, when we publish it, would be the fifth. So there really is a lot of diversity, we would have to see where they overlap and how we can compare it”. In his case, although he is also a soccer fan and follower of Athletic Bilbao, they are not thinking of paying homage to any team. “Being a discovery in La Rioja, we would have to pay homage to Logroñés here,” he jokes. “Although we would have the circumstance that the colors of the two teams are the same.”

The cradle of the great spinosaurs

Francisco Ortega, a UNED paleontologist, believes that this is an interesting finding that can help to better understand the life of these predators in this area of ​​the planet during the Lower Cretaceous. Numerous remains of this family of dinosaurs have appeared in various places on the peninsula, a very striking diversity that could suggest that it was the area in which they developed before colonizing the southern continents and becoming even larger.

“Five vertebrae and a jaw fragment is not much information, but they justify it very well, it is one more piece of the puzzle,” explains Ortega. He and his team identified another spinosaurid in the same area, vallibonavenatrix, who lived in the same period. “They are of the same formation, so we find that in Morella the representatives of the two main lineages of this family would coexist.”

A few years ago a team named a new type of fossil footprints ‘Iniestapodus burgensis’, after Iniesta’s goal

Erik Isasmendi, pre-doctoral researcher at the UPV/EHU who has led the discovery of an even more complete spinosaurid in Igea (La Rioja) believes that it is a fairly important discovery because it allows us to see that two dinosaurs that occupied niches probably coexisted in the same formation quite similar ecological, but of different size.

“In addition, we realize that the diversity for the Lower Cretaceous of these spinosaurs in the Iberian Peninsula is much greater than previously thought, in a very few years we are seeing that there are many taxa and genera, and that is very unexpected.” explains Isasmendi. “Previously, meat-eating dinosaurs were not thought to be so diverse and coexist at the same time.”

The other great controversy about these animals is about their way of life. Several recent works indicate that they could swim and hunt underwater and lived in coastal and estuary environments. “All we have are environments of estuaries, marshes, and beaches,” Santos-Cubedo emphasizes. Due to the remains found in other sites, specialists believe that their diet would be partially made up of fish, but the excavations in Arcillas de Morella, Igea and other places in the peninsular geography could still provide more evidence on this and other aspects.


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