Eustreptospondylus (Greek for "true well-curved vertebrae"); pronounced YOU-strep-toe-SPON-dih-luss
Shores of Western Europe
Middle Jurassic (165 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About 30 feet long and two tons
Large size; sharp teeth; bipedal posture; curved vertebrae in spine
Eustreptospondylus (Greek for "true well-curved vertebrae") had the misfortune of being discovered in the mid-19th century, before scientists had developed a suitable system for the classification of dinosaurs. This large theropod was originally believed to be a species of Megalosaurus (the first dinosaur ever to be officially named); it took a full century for paleontologists to recognize that its unusually curved vertebrae merited assignment to its own genus. Because the skeleton of the only known fossil specimen of Eustreptospondylus was recovered from marine sediments, experts believe that this dinosaur hunted prey along the shores of the small islands that (in the middle Jurassic period) dotted the coast of southern England.
Despite its difficult-to-pronounce name, Eustreptospondylus is one of the most important dinosaurs ever to be discovered in western Europe, and deserves to be better known by the general public. The type specimen (of a not-quite-fully-grown adult) was discovered in 1870 near Oxford, England, and until later discoveries in North America (notably of Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex) counted as the world's most complete skeleton of a meat-eating dinosaur. At 30 feet long and up to two tons, Eustreptospondylus remains one of the largest identified theropod dinosaurs of Mesozoic Europe; for example, another famous European theropod, Neovenator, was less than half its size!
Perhaps because of its English provenance, Eustreptospondylus was prominently featured a few years ago in a notorious episode of Walking With Dinosaurs, produced by the BBC. This dinosaur was depicted as capable of swimming, which may not be so far-fetched, given that it lived on a small island and may occasionally have had to venture far afield to forage for prey; more controversially, in the course of the show one individual is swallowed whole by the giant marine reptile Liopleurodon, and later (as nature comes full circle) two adult Eustreptospondylus are shown feasting on a beached Liopleurodon carcass. (We do, by the way, have good evidence for swimming dinosaurs; recently, it was proposed that the giant theropod Spinosaurus spent most of its time in the water.)