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 the UK millions of years ago.
Many fossils have been discovered in Sussex - from Hastings to Crawley - suggesting that the area was once home to several different kinds of dinosaur. Macronaria, Theropoda and Sauropoda are among the types of dinosaur that would have roamed in Sussex.
Sussex’s dinosaur population
Macronarians are Sauropods, named after the large diameter of the nasal opening of their skull. These dinosaurs were herbivores, and long necks which helped them to eat from trees and tall plants. In Sussex, evidence of Macronarians has been discovered in the Hastings area.
The Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be officially named, following its discovery in Oxfordshire in 1824 (Image: Shutterstock)
Arguably the most famous dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus, is an example of a Theropod, meaning 'wild beast' in Ancient Greek. Also discovered in Hastings, Theropods are recognised by their hollow bones and three-toed limbs. They varied greatly in size, and eventually evolved into birds during the Jurassic period.
There is evidence of the 'lizard-footed' Sauropod in both Bexhill-on-Sea and Crawley. The creatures had very long necks, long tails, small heads (in comparison to the rest of their body), and four thick legs. Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus are well-known types of Sauropod.
The UK’s most common dinosaurs
As well as Sussex, the significant number of fossils discovered on or around the Yorkshire coast and the Isle of Wight suggests that these areas were also once dinosaur hotspots. While it seems the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye once had resident dinosaurs, no remains have been found on the east coast of Scotland, or in the country’s Central Belt as yet.
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 outside of Sussex.
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.
A Tyrannosaurus is an example of a Theropod, although the Tyrannosaurus Rex was not native to the UK (Image: Shutterstock)
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 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.
‘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 in the UK. In fact, a higher number of the relics have been uncovered in the UK than in over 190 other countries.
Iguanodons were bulky herbivores and would have been a common sight across the entire UK millions of years ago (Image: Shutterstock)
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.
Main image: Shutterstock