For many of us, the mention of dinosaurs might conjure up images of scorching hot desert-like prehistoric landscapes that feel worlds away from home. However, a considerable number of the animals actually lived in Northern Ireland and the UK millions of years ago.
In Northern Ireland, fossils have been discovered close to Ballystrudder in County Antrim, suggesting that the surrounding area was once home to at least two different kinds of dinosaur. Thyreophora and Theropoda are the confirmed types of dinosaur that would have roamed in Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast.
Northern Ireland’s dinosaur population
Historically, Thyreophorans were sometimes also known as ‘shield bearers’ because of their natural body armour, which could include plates and spikes. Most of these dinosaurs had small brains in comparison to their body size. The Stegosaurus is one of the better known examples of a Thyreophoran.
Arguably the most famous dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus, is an example of a Theropod, meaning ‘wild beast’ in Ancient Greek. Recognised by their hollow bones and three-toed limbs, these creatures varied greatly in size, and eventually evolved into birds during the Jurassic period.
The UK’s most common dinosaurs
Outside of Northern Ireland, the significant number of fossils discovered in Sussex and on or around the Yorkshire coast and the Isle of Wight suggests that these areas were once dinosaur hotspots. As yet, no remains have been found on the east coast of Scotland, or in the country’s Central Belt.
Bulky herbivores, Iguanodon, and duck-billed Ornithopods would have been common sights across the UK at one time. Signs of the enormous Sauropod (the group which includes the largest animals to have ever lived on land) have also been found in several locations.
The first dinosaur
The Megalosaurus (meaning ‘great lizard’ in Ancient Greek) was the first dinosaur to be officially named, following its discovery in Oxfordshire in 1824. This is the most commonly found type of dinosaur in the UK.
Originally thought to be a giant lizard measuring 20 metres in length, modern research has found that the Megalosaurus was around seven metres long and weighed more than one tonne. This dinosaur had a large head and short forelimbs, walked on two legs and used its horizontal tail for balance.
You may be surprised by the variety of fossils that have been unearthed in the UK and Northern Ireland over the years, but discoveries are still being made today.
In early April 2018, enormous 170 million year old prehistoric footprints were found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and determined to have belonged to Sauropods. Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus are well-known types of Sauropod.
‘Inventors’ of the dinosaur
While the majority of the world’s dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the United States, more than 500 were found closer to home. In fact, a higher number of the relics have been uncovered in the UK and Northern Ireland than in over 190 other countries.
In fact, the term ‘Dinosauria’ was first coined by English paleontologist, Sir Richard Owen, to describe the three dinosaurs known about at the time – Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus. Translated from Ancient Greek, ‘Dinosauria’ means ‘fearfully great reptiles’.
Most UK dinosaur remains have been recovered from rocks dating back to the Middle Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. This means that these animals were roaming the country up to 174 million years ago.
Dinosaurs around the globe
Around the rest of the world, the US have recorded more than five thousand dinosaur fossil finds, and Canada lay claim to over 1,400 discoveries. In North America, many fossils have been found clustered along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.
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