Raised crests on the Nasals make Neovenator a very peculiar looking Theropod

Sunday and we are back in the office working on some new fact sheets in preparation for the launch of the new Procon/Collecta range of dinosaur models.  We first saw the prototypes of this new set of six prehistoric animals about 12 months ago.  The team at Everything Dinosaur had been asked to examine them and make suggestions regarding anatomical accuracy, also to comment on the choice of dinosaurs that were going to make up the series.  The six dinosaurs featured are Spinosaurus (seems every manufacturer wants to come up with one of these), Eustreptospondylus, Augustinia, Baryonyx, Allosaurus and Neovenator.  As a British based company, it is very rewarding to see UK dinosaurs featured in the new collection, especially ones such as Eustreptospondylus and Neovenator which are known from only one major fossil find, plus a few scattered bones.

We have been working with an accomplished and very well respected American illustrator called Mike Fredericks.  He has been providing us with sketches of the new models that we can use to produce scale drawings in our fact sheets.  We find it is all very well saying that Neovenator could be up to 7 metres long and 2 metres tall, this does not mean much to some of our younger dinosaur fans but if you put a scale model of their dad in the drawing then the impressive size of some of these animals is made much clearer.

Interesting to note that the actual size of Neovenator salerii is still debated, despite it being 30 years since the only relatively complete skeleton of this animal was discovered.  The 50% complete specimen (MIWG.6348), which began to be excavated in 1980, two years after its discovery on the Isle of Wight, indicates an animal about 7 metres long.  However, an isolated pedal phalanx (toe bone), also from the Isle of Wight (MIWG.4199) and attributed to Neovenator may indicate that this Allosaur reached lengths in excess of 10 metres.

A Sketch of Neovenator – With the Muzzle like Face

Picture courtesy of Mike Fredericks

Neovenator has been classified as an Allosaurid and is the largest Allosaur discovered so far in Europe.  The end of Neovenator’s ischium has an “expanded boot”, this feature is seen in a particular group of Allosaurs called the Carcharodontosaurids, although other features of the fossil remains enable Neovenator to be classified into its own genus.  If Neovenator is classified as a close relative of Carcharodontosaurids it implies that this particular group of meat-eating dinosaurs originated in Europe before spreading into Africa (Carcharodontosaurus), South America (Giganotosaurus) and North America (Acrocanthosaurus).  The Carcharodontosaurids may turn out to comprise the largest meat-eaters the world has ever known (not withstanding the latest information on the huge Tyrannosaur skull unearthed in the US by Kevin Rigby).  So Europe might be the birthplace of the really big Theropods and not Asia or the Americas as previously thought.

Neovenator was a bizarre looking carnivore.  The main elements of the skull and jaws recovered from the Isle of Wight consist of the left premaxilla and left maxilla.  These bones made up what was the snout of the animal and they indicate that it had a broad muzzle with raised nasal crests.  In life these features would have given the impression that Neovenator had a broad beak.  Why did Neovenator have these unusual features?

A number of suggestions have been put forward, this large hunter may have used its beak to knock down prey that it was pursuing.  It could have butted them with its head and knocked them off balance, this may have been a successful hunting strategy of young Iguanodontids as they ran away on their hind legs.

The muzzle could also have been used for display purposes.  Scientists have speculated whether these large Theropods lived in packs and the nasal crests could have been an ontogenetic feature (changes with age), with only one specimen found so far this is a difficult theory to prove. The muzzle shape in combination with any colour changes that occurred as the animal reached maturity could indicate social standing in the pack.

From the size of the naris (which is very large), it seems that sense of smell was very important to Neovenator, perhaps the muzzle shaped evolved to permit extended nasal passages giving this animal an improved sense of smell.  If more material is discovered then palaeontologists may be able to shed more light onto this mystery.

Ironically, there may be fossils of Neovenator already in museums, especially the Natural History museum – London.  For many years isolated fragments and individual Theropod bones had been ascribed to the Megalosauridae group.  Indeed, some palaeontologists claim that this taxon has become a “dumping ground” for any miscellaneous meat-eating dinosaur fossils.  So there may be more Neovenator remains already in museum draws, these may provide more information on the size of the animal plus shed more light on the structure of the skull.

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