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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Mini-dinosaurs emerge from quarry
Dino models at the Dinopark Munchehagen. (Dinopark Munchehagen)
These mini-sauropods have now been modelled (Image: Dinopark Munchehagen)
A new species of mini-dinosaur has been unearthed in northern Germany.

The creature was of the sauropod type - that group of long-necked, four-footed herbivores that were the largest of all the dinosaurs.

But at just a few metres in length, this animal was considerably smaller than its huge cousins, scientists report in the journal Nature.

The team thinks the Jurassic species evolved its small form in response to limited food resources on an island.

Martin Sander, from the University of Bonn, and colleagues studied the remains of over 11 sauropods found in a quarry at Oker, near Goslar, Lower Saxony.

With total body lengths ranging from 1.7 to 6.2m (5.5-20ft), the team originally thought the dinosaurs were juveniles. But when the scientists examined the fossils closely, they realised they were dealing with dwarf creatures.

Co-author Nils Knotschke holds a skull reconstruction (M.Sander)
Nature co-author Nils Knotschke holds a skull reconstruction (Image: M.Sander)
The species has been given the formal classification Europasaurus holgeri, or "Holger's reptile from Europe". The name honours Holger Luedtke, a self-taught palaeontologist who found the first bones in 1998.

In height terms, an adult E. holgeri would have been about the size of a horse at the shoulder. Compare this with other sauropods, which were bigger than buses, tens of metres in length and could weigh 100 tonnes or more.

The fossils were found in Late Jurassic carbonate rock (about 150 million years old). At this period in Earth's history, much of what is now central Europe was under water. Dr Sander and colleagues suggest the dinosaurs could have lived on one of the large islands around the Lower Saxony basin.

"Such islands would not have been able to support large-bodied sauropods," they write in Nature.

"The ancestor of the Europasaurus would have dwarfed rapidly on immigrating to the island, or as a response to shrinking land masses caused by rising sea levels."

(Octavio Mateus, Museu da Lourinha)
An adult and juvenile with a human for scale. White bones indicate known parts of the skeleton. (Image: O.Mateus, Museu da Lourinha)

Dinosaurs had appetite for grass
17 Nov 05 |  Science/Nature
Dinosaur family footprints found
02 Dec 03 |  Scotland
Nose job for dinosaurs
02 Aug 01 |  Science/Nature


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