Amateur unearths pygmy dinosaur fossil

A pygmy dinosaur many times smaller than its giant relatives has been found by a fossil hunter searching a stone quarry in Germany. It is the first time scientists have found evidence of dwarfism in dinosaurs, which could have evolved in response to a shortage of food on the island where they lived 150 million years ago.

When the bones were first unearthed in 1998 it was thought they belonged to juvenile sauropods - the biggest animals to walk on land - but a new analysis shows they were, in fact, fully grown adults.

Sauropod dinosaurs such as brachiosaurus grew up to 45 metres (150ft) long and weighed 80 tons. Their diminutive relatives, which were found in a quarry in Lower Saxony, stopped growing at 6mand weighed less than a ton, which is more than 50 times smaller than their larger cousins.

Martin Sander of the University of Bonn and Octavio Mateus of Museo da Lourinha in Lisbon said that a microscopic analysis of the small dinosaur's bones, published in the journal Nature, has confirmed that they were adults rather than juveniles.

"We really have found a dwarf dinosaur that lies between giants. All of its relatives are really huge," Dr Mateus said yesterday. The part of Europe where the bones were unearthed was largely submerged by the sea 150 million years ago, with the exception of a large island where prehistoric life had remained isolated for millions of years. "Although the dinosaurs had lived on the island for several million years, dwarfism could have occurred relatively rapidly, within about 20,000 years or so," he said.

There are several examples of large species of animals becoming smaller when they live in isolation . Deer introduced to the Shetland islands have evolved into dwarf animals, the remains of pygmy elephants have been found on Mediterranean islands and the bones of dwarf mammoths have been found on Wrangel Island in Siberia.

Even humans are believed to have undergone island dwarfism to produce the controversial "hobbits" that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores as recently as 12,000 years ago.

"This island situation may well be the reason why pygmy dinosaurs evolved. When the sea rose, flooding more land, food resources became scarce," said Niles Knötschke of the Dinopark in Münchehagen, and a member of the research team.

"The result was enormous pressure to evolve. Smaller animals which needed less food had better chances of survival," Dr Mateus said.

The species has been named Europasaurus holgeri in honour of its discoverer, Holger Luedtke, an amateur palaeontologist who was searching a quarry near Oker near the Harz Mountains in northern Germany. "Holger found them in the quarry when he was looking for other fossils. He discovered them almost by accident," Dr Mateus said.

The quarry at Harz has already revealed a menagerie of unusual extinct creatures, such as flying dinosaurs, crocodiles, tortoises and the footprints of a dangerous carnivorous dinosaur that has yet to be identified.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
music
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003