Wales has joined the ranks of countries able to boast of dinosaur discoveries. Researchers have announced the unearthing of a distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex, the first carnivorous dinosaur fossil to be uncovered in the nation.
Found on a beach near Penarth, the T. rex's relative lived around 200 million years ago – in the earliest portion of the Jurassic period – making it possibly the oldest Jurassic dinosaur discovered anywhere in the world, according to experts.
"It is very rare to find this type of dinosaur at all and never before in Wales," said paleontologist John Nudds of the University of Manchester. "In fact it is only the second dinosaur ever found in Wales."
The fossil was uncovered when part of a cliff collapsed onto the beach following spring storms in 2014.
Because some of the bones were not fully formed, experts believe the animal was a juvenile specimen, probably just 20 inches tall and slightly more than 6 feet in length.
The dinosaur species – which has not yet been named – would have been small, slim and agile, living at a time when southern Wales offered a climate much warmer than today.
The researchers said the dinosaur probably sported a fuzzy coating of crude proto-feathers, as did many dinosaurs of its theropod class. This covering would have provided insulation and may have also been used in mating displays.
Small sharp serrated teeth suggest a carnivorous diet, probably consisting of small mammals, insects and other smaller reptiles.
"Theropods were vicious hunters who would prey on others," added Nudd.
These kind of dinosaurs were evolving rapidly at the beginning of the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs as a group were just beginning to diversify. Only a few specimens have been found worldwide, Nudd pointed out:
"So this is a very exciting finding that could tell us a lot about how these species were evolving."
The researchers say their studies of the fossil are still underway and they are preparing for publication of a paper that will announce a scientific name for the species.
Fossil-hunting brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan, who came upon the remains on the Penarth Beach, called their discovery the "find of a life-time."
"Preparing the skull and to seeing the teeth of a theropod for the first time in 200 million years was absolutely fantastic — you just can't beat that sort of thing!" said Nick Hanigan.
The brothers have donated their find to the National Museum Wales.