Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Europasaurus" - Dinosaurs & Robots Art Show

When someone discusses dinosaurs, they generally refer to enormous lumbering beasts whose very size boggled the imagination.  Evolution, however, is capable of some amazing things - especially when it comes to animal populations that, through folly of geography, sea level change, or plate tectonics, become displaced from their formerly wide-open homelands and become stranded on islands or archipelagos.  Known as Foster's Rule (or the "island rule") among biologists, formerly small creatures will sometimes become larger (island gigantism), while the bigger animals shrink (insular dwarfism) in response to resource availability, or lack thereof.  In modern times, this is evident in the giant Komodo dragons of Indonesia and the pygmy elephants of Borneo - going further back in time, we see the same with the Wrangel Island dwarf mammoths and the giant flightless moa birds of New Zealand.

Rewind the clock all the way back to the Late Jurassic between 155 million and 150 million years ago - much of Europe isn't even a continent yet, and is instead covered by a massive, shallow seaway dotted with island archipelagos.  At least one of these islands, near what will one day become Germany, is home to a population of herbivorous dwarf dinosaurs - sauropods, to be precise.  It may be hard to imagine that one of the largest creatures that ever walked the planet could come in a pint-sized package as well, but Europasaurus holgeri was just that - a diminutive variety of the usually gigantic Titanisauroform sauropods, a family which includes such bruisers as Brachiosaurus and the newly named Brontomerus.  Adult Europasaurus measured approximately 10 to 20 feet long and weighed a mere 1,000-2,000 lbs, where other Titanisauroformes reached lengths of over 40 feet and weighed several tons.

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