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'Horned crocodile-faced hell heron' dinosaur terrorized prey on land, in water

The large predator is part of a surprising discovery.

Ceratosuchops inferodios appears in the foreground and Riparovenator milnerae in the background of this artist's impression of the newly discovered spinosaurids from the Isle of Wight.
Anthony Hutchings

If you're going to name a new species of dinosaur, you might as well go big. A team of researchers has identified two new species of spinosaurid found in the UK, and one of them is called Ceratosuchops inferodios, which means "horned crocodile-faced hell heron." That's metal.

Ceratosuchops is joined by Riparovenator milnerae, which means "Milner's riverbank hunter." That less fierce name is a tribute to British palaeontologist Angela Milner, who died this year. Fossil collectors found partial skulls of the specimens on a beach on the Isle of Wight. A portion of tail was also recovered. 

Paleontologists from the University of Southampton led a study on the ancient predators this week in the journal Scientific Reports. A video released by the university gives some insights into how the fossils were found.

The dinosaurs trace back to over 125 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous, when the area was a floodplain. Estimates based on the incomplete skeletons suggest the sizable dinosaurs reached about 30 feet (9 meters) in length.  

The Ceratosuchops brain case helped scientists determine it was a previously unknown species of spinosaurid.

Chris Barker

The new species hint at a hidden history of spinosaurids in the UK. There is one other know UK spinosaurid, Baryonyx, which was found in a quarry in Surrey in 1983. 

"We've known for a couple of decades now that Baryonyx-like dinosaurs awaited discovered on the Isle of Wight, but finding the remains of two such animals in close succession was a huge surprise," said co-author Darren Naish in a statement this week.

Spinosaurids were adaptable predators. Ceratosuchops earned its heron name because it likely hunted in a similar fashion to herons, which are birds that catch prey on both land and water. A 2020 study found that Spinosaurus, a dinosaur bigger than T. rex, could swim.

You can go say hello to the dinos in person. The spinosaurids will go on display at the Dinosaur Isle Museum on the Isle of Wight. And the next time you spot a heron, be grateful it's not big enough to eat you.