Chicken-sized T-rex named chief dragon believed to be dinosaur’s oldest ancestor

A Tyrannosaurs rex-like dinosaur that was no bigger than a chicken is thought to be its oldest living ancestor.

The tiny carnivorous dinosaur is believed to be the oldest-known meat-eating dinosaur to be found in the UK.

The fossil was first discovered in a quarry in Wales in the 1950s but scientists believed it formed part of a different group of dinosaurs at the time.

It has now been given the name Pendraig milnerae by scientists at London’s Natural History Museum, which means "chief dragon" in Middle Welsh.

Speaking to the BBC, research fellow at the museum and the paper's lead author Dr Stephan Spiekman said: “It was a typical theropod; so, a meat-eating dinosaur that walked around on two legs, like T-rex or Velociraptor that you'll know from the movies, but much earlier in time.”

Pendraig was found in a deposit known as a fissure fill, which is where remains fell into crevices before being covered over and fossilised.

In 1952 a few of the dinosaur's bones, including parts of the back, legs and hips, were discovered from one of the fissures.

Researchers at the time identified the fossils as a smaller, carnivorous dinosaur with a long, narrow snout, which they say was common to those of the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic.

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The species is the oldest-known theropod dinosaur found in the UK and scientists believe it represents a major milestone in understanding the evolution of Europe's dinosaurs.

There is also speculation that the chicken-like size of small size of Pendraig could be because he was a juvenile.

Although this can’t be confirmed, it could be possible that an adult may have grown larger than the specimen discovered in Wale.

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Scientists' research was also complicated due to its presumed habitat, which is thought to have been an island archipelago.

It is believed that species living on islands are often smaller due to the reduced resources, which is a process known as island dwarfism.

The dinosaur even went missing in the museum for many years but was found by their late scientist Angela Milner, who played an important role in bringing the findings together before she passed away in August 2021.

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Dr Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher in palaeobiology at the museum who studied under Angela, said: “I told her that I couldn't find it, and so she went away and about three hours later she had it.

“She found it in a drawer of crocodile material, and she must have had the specimen in her mind's eye from when she had previously looked through it. This paper would not have been possible without her.”

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