The Minden Monster may sound like some sort of boogeyman, but it’s the fabulous nickname given to a fossil dating back 163 million years, to the Middle Jurassic. Although this incomplete and enigmatic fossil was long thought to represent the largest ever predatory dinosaur found in Germany, scientists have only just realized that it not only represents a brand new species, but an entirely new genus – a higher evolutionary grouping.
This beast predates the appearance of many famous dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus rex by around 95 million years, and the Stegosaurus by about 10 million years. With ferocious banana-sized teeth, a length of up to 10 meters (33 feet) and a mass of around 1.8 tonnes (2 tons), it would have easily been the apex predator of its time, according to the study in Palaeontologia Electronica.
Compared to other non-avian dinosaurs around at the time, it was quite stocky, and remarkably, it was likely to have been far bigger in adult life – this animal was fairly young when it met its untimely end. It belonged to the Megalosauridae, a group of carnivorous, bipedal beasts closely related to the gigantic, terrifying Allosaurus and Spinosaurus, colossi that stalked the world a few tens of millions of years later.
The Minden Monster, technically known as Wiehenvenator albati, was initially identified from fossilized teeth and fractured skeletal remains residing within an abandoned quarry in 1999. The sediments were marine, but the dinosaur was definitely terrestrial. Realizing that the sea levels around the Middle Jurassic were higher, and much of Central Europe was underwater, the team surmised that this dinosaur lived on an island.
In fact, the entire region was pockmarked with islands, many of which were likely home to a broad range of apex predators, including W. albati. The team thinks that most of them were Megalosauridae, which means that these islands would have been incredibly dangerous to live on if you weren’t part of the same dinosaurian family – the earliest large carnivorous dinosaurs known to science.
“Practically all the major groups of predatory dinosaurs originated during this period, including the tyrannosaurs – which, however, only gave rise to their really gigantic representatives some 80 million years later – and the first direct ancestors of the birds,” lead author Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, said in a statement.
When the Cretaceous period kicked off 145 million years ago, the Megalosauridae were nowhere to be seen, suggesting that they went extinct. Their ecological niches were filled by other horrifying predators, who ruled the world for a further 79 million years before prolonged, continental-sized volcanism, the rise of opportunistic mammals, and the infamous asteroid impact finished the non-avian dinosaurs off once and for all.
Image in text: The upper jaw of the Minden Monster. Rauhut et al./Palaeontologia Electronica
A tentative reconstruction of the Minden Monster from northwest Germany, featuring the bones (white) that were found in the dig. Scale bar 1 meter (3.3 feet). Rauhut et al./Palaeontologia Electronica