Meet T.Rex’s Welsh ancestor! Bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur dubbed the ‘Chief Dragon’ roamed southern Wales 215 million years ago, fossil analysis reveals

  • Scientists discovered the fossil in a quarry in Pant-y-ffynnon, southern Wales 
  • Initial analysis suggests the dinosaur was chicken-size with a long tail
  • The dinosaur is a theropod – a group which also includes T.Rex – and lived between 200 and 215 million years ago

T.Rex is often described as the ‘King of the Dinosaurs’, thanks to its ferocious appetite and ruthless killing tactics when it roamed the Earth 80 million years ago.

But a new study suggests that one of T.Rex’s ancient ancestors may not have been quite so scary, and was actually just the size of a chicken. 

Researchers from the Natural History Museum and the University of Birmingham discovered the remains of the creature in a quarry in Pant-y-ffynnon in southern Wales.

The dinosaur, dubbed Pendraig milnerae, is a theropod – a group which also includes T.Rex – and lived between 200 and 215 million years ago.

Richard Butler, co-author of the study, said: ‘Dinosaur discoveries are really rare in Wales, and this is only the third dinosaur species known from the country.

‘It’s very exciting to learn more about the dinosaurs that lived here in the UK during the Triassic, right at the dawn of dinosaur evolution.’

 T.Rex is often described as the ‘King of the Dinosaurs’, known for its ferocious appetite and ruthless killing tactics when it roamed the Earth 80 million years ago. But a new study suggests that one of T.Rex’s ancient ancestors may not have been quite so scary, and was actually just the size of a chicken (artist’s impression pictured)

Meet T.Rex’s Welsh ancestor 

The team named the species Pendraig milnerae. 

Pendraig means ‘Chief Dragon’ in Middle Welsh, while milnerae honours Dr Angela Milner, who was instrumental in locating the specimen, but sadly passed away in August 2021. 

An initial analysis indicates that the dinosaur likely had a body size around that of a modern-day chicken, but boasted an impressive tail that took its total length to 3.2ft (one metre). 

The team discovered several fragmented fossils while exploring the quarry, including its articulated pelvic girdle, sacrum and posterior dorsal vertebrae, and an associated left femur.

An initial analysis indicates that the dinosaur likely had a body size around that of a modern-day chicken, but boasted an impressive tail that took its total length to 3.2ft (one metre).

Dr Stephan Spiekman, first author of the study, said: ‘Pendraig milnerae lived near the beginning of the evolution of the meat-eating dinosaurs.

‘It’s clear from the bones we have that it was a meat-eater, but early in the evolution of this group these animals were quite small, in contrast to the very famous meat-eating dinosaurs like T. rex which evolved much later.’

The team named the species Pendraig milnerae. Pendraig means ‘Chief Dragon’ in Middle Welsh, while milnerae honours Dr Angela Milner, who was instrumental in locating the specimen, but sadly passed away in August 2021.

‘I told Angela that I couldn’t find the specimen, and so she went away and about three hours later she had it,’ said Dr Susannah Maidment, a Senior Researcher in paleobiology at the Natural History Museum.

‘She found it in a drawer with crocodile material. She must have had the specimen in her mind’s eye from when she had previously looked through that drawer. This paper would not have been possible without her.’

The new dinosaur’s diminutive size also hints at possible ‘island dwarfism’ in the area, according to the researchers.

Dr Spiekman explained: ‘The area where these specimens were found was most likely an island during the time period in which it lived.

‘Species which live on islands often tend to become smaller than those on the mainland in a phenomenon called island dwarfism.

Researchers from the Natural History Museum and the University of Birmingham discovered the remains of the creature in a quarry in Pant-y-ffynnon in southern Wales

The new dinosaur’s diminutive size also hints at possible island dwarfism in the area, according to the researchers

The team named the species Pendraig milnerae. Pendraig means ‘Chief Dragon’ in Middle Welsh, while milnerae honours Dr Angela Milner, who was instrumental in locating the specimen, but sadly passed away in August 2021

‘Because the fossil reptiles from this area, including Pendraig, are all quite small-sized, we used statistical analyses to investigate whether Pendraig might have been an insular dwarf. 

‘The results indicate that Pendraig is indeed small, even for a theropod of that time period, but not uniquely so.

‘Furthermore, based on several characters on the bones, we were able to determine that, although the specimens of Pendraig were not very young, they were also likely not fully grown.

‘So Pendraig might have gotten somewhat bigger than the specimens we have so far, which limits our ability to perform reliable body size analyses.

‘With this in mind, we need more evidence from more species to investigate the potential for island dwarfism in this area during that time, but if we could prove it, it would be the earliest known occurrence of this evolutionary phenomenon.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. 

HOW THE DINOSAURS WENT EXTINCT AROUND 66 MILLION YEARS AGO

Dinosaurs ruled and dominated Earth around 66 million years ago, before they suddenly went extinct. 

The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event is the name given to this mass extinction.

It was believed for many years that the changing climate destroyed the food chain of the huge reptiles. 

In the 1980s, paleontologists discovered a layer of iridium.

This is an element that is rare on Earth but is found  in vast quantities in space.  

When this was dated, it coincided precisely with when the dinosaurs disappeared from the fossil record. 

A decade later, scientists uncovered the massive Chicxulub Crater at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which dates to the period in question. 

Scientific consensus now says that these two factors are linked and they were both probably caused by an enormous asteroid crashing to Earth.

With the projected size and impact velocity, the collision would have caused an enormous shock-wave and likely triggered seismic activity. 

The fallout would have created plumes of ash that likely covered all of the planet and made it impossible for dinosaurs to survive. 

Other animals and plant species had a shorter time-span between generations which allowed them to survive.

There are several other theories as to what caused the demise of the famous animals. 

One early theory was that small mammals ate dinosaur eggs and another proposes that toxic angiosperms (flowering plants) killed them off.  

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