Skip to main content

Biggest predator ever to stalk Europe: 4-inch teeth and 33 feet long

updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
An illustration shows what Torvosaurus gurneyi, possibly the largest terrestrial predator in Europe, might have looked like.
An illustration shows what Torvosaurus gurneyi, possibly the largest terrestrial predator in Europe, might have looked like.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Torvosaurus gurneyi is said to be a new species
  • A new study says it lived about 150 million years ago and roamed Europe
  • It probably ate herbivorous dinosaurs on the Iberian Peninsula

(CNN) -- At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.

"I suppose it wouldn't be a good idea to cross the way of this dinosaur," said Christophe Hendrickx, doctoral candidate at the New University of Lisbon in Portugal.

Thanks to Hendrickx and paleontologist Octavio Mateus, Torvosaurus gurneyi may have the distinction of being the largest terrestrial predator found in Europe. Hendrickx and Mateus describe this dinosaur in a new study in the journal PLOS One.

The remains of Torvosaurus gurneyi were discovered at the Lourinha Formation, a fruitful site of dinosaur bones north of Lisbon.

Before this study, bones that scientists say belong to the new species were thought to belong to Torvosaurus tanneri, a North American dinosaur species.

But comparisons between the remains of the Portuguese and North American specimens suggest that they warrant distinct species names. For instance, Torvosaurus tanneri had at least 11 teeth, while Torvosaurus gurneyi had fewer, scientists said.

Torvosaurus gurneyi lived about 150 million years ago. The continents had previously all been one land mass, but by the time of this dinosaur, the Iberian Peninsula had broken off from North America, Hendrickx said.

"The study provides compelling evidence in support of the hypothesis that temporary connections between North America and Europe existed during the Late Jurassic, and these allowed for intercontinental faunal mixing," Gregory Erickson, a Florida State University paleobiologist not involved in the study, said via e-mail.

Subsequent geographic isolation led to the development of distinct species, Erickson said.

The Tyrannosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus and Giganotosaurus from the Cretaceous period -- defined as 145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago -- were larger than Torvosaurus gurneyi. But this European giant seems to have been a powerful predator.

The dinosaur appears to have been a carnivore that probably ate herbivorous dinosaurs. Its teeth were nearly 4 inches long; its skull was thought to be about 45 inches long.

The environment where it lived was tropical, with temperatures ranging from 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. A diverse collection of dinosaurs roamed the area.

This is a cast reconstrution of the skull of the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi, which lived 150 million years ago.
This is a cast reconstrution of the skull of the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi, which lived 150 million years ago.

"The fauna was certainly dominated by dinosaurs," Hendrickx said.

Specimens that most likely belong to this species include an upper jaw bone, teeth and partial tail vertebrae, remnants discovered in 2003.

Hendrickx proposes other material found at the same site in Portugal also belongs to Torvosaurus gurneyi. A tibia and femur seem to fit the profile, as do embryos that Hendrickx, Mateus and colleagues described in the journal Nature last year.

Torvosaurus gurneyi could have been covered with proto-feathers, given evidence from closely related dinosaurs, the scientists said. But as for its colors, no one yet knows.

Erickson called the discovery exciting. It demonstrates that large theropods -- meat-eating dinosaurs -- lived in Europe during the Late Jurassic.

"Torvosaurus gurneyi was the T. rex of its time," Erickson said.

Hendrickx named the species after James Gurney, an artist and writer known for the illustrated "Dinotopia" book series about -- guess what? -- a society of people and dinosaurs.

Mammoth, 'very strange-looking' dinosaur skull found in Canada

First dinosaur bones in Saudi Arabia discovered

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
updated 6:43 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
updated 7:06 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
updated 8:07 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
updated 8:20 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT