Welcome to the island of dwarf dinosaurs

DinoScientists have announced that an island of “dwarf dinosaurs” really did exist

The idea of the small prehistoric animals on Hateg Island in Romania, was proposed 100 years ago by the colourful Baron Franz Nopcsa, whose family owned estates in the area.

He found that many dinosaur remains on Hateg were half the size of their close relatives in older rocks in England, Germany and North America.  His s theory has been tested for the first time by Professor Mike Benton at the University of Bristol, and six other authors from Romania, Germany, and the United States.

The team found that the Hateg Island dinosaurs were indeed dwarfs and not just young dinosaurs.  A favourite theme of evolutionary ecologists is whether there is an “island rule” – where large animals isolated on islands evolve to become smaller.

Three species of the Hateg dinosaurs – the plant-eating sauropod Magyarosaurus and the plant-eating ornithopods Telmatosaurus and Zalmoxes – are half the length of their nearest relatives elsewhere.

Scientists examined these dinosaurs but found no evidence of any large bones as they would expect to find in their normal-sized relatives.  More importantly, a close study of the bones confirmed that the dinosaurs had reached adulthood so they were not just underdeveloped youngsters.

The idea of “island dwarfing” is well-established in other cases. There were dwarf elephants on many of the Mediterranean islands during the past tens of thousands of years.  The Hateg dinosaurs date from close to the end of the Cretaceous period, some 65-70 million years ago, when much of Europe was flooded by great seas.  There was an archipelago of islands across eastern Europe and the Mediterranean coastal area. Dinosaurs are known to have inhabited some of these.  Hateg Island was about 50,000 square miles and was rich with fossil plants, insects, fishes, frogs, lizards, birds, and mammals, but it is not known exactly how the dinosaurs came to be living on island.