Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mini dinosaur land found by palaeontologists.

Found: 'Jurassic Parkette' – the prehistoric island ruled by dwarf dinosaurs

A prehistoric "lost world" ruled by miniature dinosaurs has been discovered by palaeontologists.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent 20 Feb 2010

The creatures lived on an island – a kind of pigmy Jurassic Park – and were up to eight times smaller than some of their mainland cousins. One of the island-dwelling dinosaurs, named Magyarosaurus, was little bigger than a horse, but was related to some of the largest creatures to ever walk the Earth – gigantic titanosaurs such as Argentinosaurus, which reached up to 100 feet long and weighed around 80 tons. Another of the dinosaurs was found to be a primitive dwarfed species similar to large duck-billed herbivores like Iguanodon, which could grow to be up to 10 feet long and weighed more than three tons. Fossils from the dwarf dinosaurs were found in what is now modern day Romania, in an area known as Hateg, which, 65 million years ago – when the creatures were living there – was an island. Professor Michael Benton, from the University of Bristol, who carried out the research with scientists at the Universities of Bucharest and Bonn, said the dinosaurs seemed to have evolved smaller bodies after becoming marooned there. He said: "Most of the famous dinosaurs that we know about were living on big landmasses at the end of the Cretaceous period. "The curious thing about Europe at this time was that it was largely covered by sea and much of Eastern Europe was a sort of archipelago of islands. "If you are a big dinosaur on a small island with limited food and space, then the evolutionary pressure is either to go extinct or to get smaller." The findings will overturn some popular perceptions about dinosaurs, which are generally considered the largest animals to have ever stalked the Earth. Even their name, derived from the Greek for "fearfully great lizard", implies that dinosaurs were gigantic creatures. The dwarf bones were found by a 19th century fossil hunter called Baron Franz Nopcsa, who observed at the time that the species he discovered were unusually small. His observations sparked debate among palaeontologists about whether the dinosaurs were entirely new dwarfed species or merely just juveniles of larger dinosaurs. Most large dinosaurs were adapted to roaming across huge landmasses where their territories and food sources were plentiful. Their large size also offered protection against predators. However, at the end of the cretaceous period, around 65 million years ago, much of Europe was under water and Hateg, which is now landlocked in central Romania, is thought to have formed a 30,000 square mile island – about half the size of modern Britain. Palaeontologists believe that the rising sea levels in Europe cut many species of dinosaurs off the rest of the world, forcing them to adapt to their new, smaller habitats. Modern analysis techniques have now allowed the scientists to confirm the remains of two common species of dinosaur found on the island, and possibly a third, were in fact dwarfed species. The researchers found that the four legged herbivore Magyarosaurus had an estimated body length of just 16 to 19 feet and weighed just an eighth of its larger relatives such Argentinosaurus and the Paralititan, which grew up to 100 feet length and weighed up to 80 tons. A hadrosaurid called Telmatosaurus was also found to be just 13 feet long, compared to the 22 to 32 feet of its closest relations. It is estimated to have weighed just an eighth of relatives such as the five ton Maiasaura. The scientists say a third species, a two legged herbivore known as Zalmoxes, was a possible dwarf species related to the 26 foot long Tenontosaurus, and weighed around a quarter as much as its two ton relative. The new findings will be published in the scientific journal Palaeogreography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Professor Benton said many of the fossils were quite primitive in evolutionary terms for the late cretaceous period, lending support for the theory that they had become marooned on the island. He said: "There is evidence that this island was tropical, just north of the equator, with rich vegetation and insects, but in order to support even several hundred animals, the evolutionary pressure would have been for them to get smaller or die out. "There is very little evidence for large flesh eating dinosaurs, so the pressure for large body size to avoid being eaten was not the same." The fossilised dwarf dinosaur bones are some of the earliest examples of "island dwarfing" – where large species stranded on islands become smaller. The evolutionary process has been a hotly debated topic among scientists following a series of discoveries of dwarf species of elephant, woolly mammoths and even human ancestors on islands. Most recently an intense row broke out over whether the bones of an extinct species of human discovered on the island of Flores, in Indonesia – which became known as the Hobbit – were from a dwarfed species of human or a youngster. Dr Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London where reference fossils of the dwarfed dinosaurs are kept, said: "This certainly suggests that the evolutionary processes involved in island dwarfing have been operating over millions of years. "Although dinosaurs are typically portrayed as being gigantic, this research also helps to emphasis that some of them were in fact quite small."


This has implications for cryptozoology in that maybe we should be looking for smaller evolved species of unknown creatures and not hunting monsters. Personally I love the thought of huge creatures but I should perhaps look nearer the ground in future. :-)

1 comment:

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