An article published in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” reports the identification of a carnivorous dinosaur that lived in today’s Portugal between 153 and 145 million years ago, in the Jurassic period. A team of researchers led by Dr. Elisabete Malafaia of the Portuguese University of Lisbon named it Lusovenator santosi and attributed it to the Carcharodontosauria group, part of the larger group of allosaurs, carnivorous dinosaurs that were superpredators in their ecosystems. This species is very ancient within its group and its discovery offers some new information on the first phase of these dinosaurs’ diversification, which is currently poorly known due to the scarcity of fossils.
Carcharodontosaurians (Carcharodontosauria) were among the major predators during most of the Cretaceous period. Over the decades their classification has been modified following the discovery of new fossils that led to redefining the relationships between various genera. Two partial skeletons, although discovered in different places and times, have been attributed to the new species Lusovenator santosi after their examination.
The specimen from 153 million years ago was juvenile and was found in Praia de Valmitão, in the locality of Ribamar and municipality of Lourinhã. The other specimen, 145 million years old, was large and was found in Praia de Cambelas, in the town of São Pedro da Cadeira and municipality of Torres Vedras.
As often happens in cases of partial skeletons, the reconstructions are also based on estimates made taking into consideration similar species, in this case, other carcharodontosaurians. According to the researchers, Lusovenator santosi was about 3.5 meters long, about a meter tall, and was bipedal. The top image (Malafaia et al, doi 10.1080/02724634.2020.1768106) shows a silhouette of this dinosaur indicating which bones were found along with their reproduction.
Lusovenator santosi is the oldest carcharodontosaurian discovered in what used to be the supercontinent Laurasia. The scarce availability of fossils related to this group of dinosaurs dating back to the Jurassic period makes it difficult to reconstruct their family tree. Every discovery can bring crucial information to understand their evolution and diversification.
Few Lusovenator santosi bones have been discovered, but they’re enough for the researchers to conclude that a diversification of these allosaurs occurred before the Cretaceous period. Going beyond the group of carcharodontosaurians, the conclusion is that, at the time in which it lived, there was a remarkable diversity of theropod dinosaurs in today’s Iberian peninsula.