The Europasaurus was a dwarf dinosaur that lived in present day Germany. It existed in the latter half of the Jurassic period. This was about 156 to 149 million years ago. This stage lies in the Kimmeridgian to the Tithonian ages of the Jurassic period.
The Europasaurus is classified family Brachiosauridae of sub order Sauropodomorpha. This family consists of dinosaurs with long necks and gigantic body sizes.
The Europasaurus was unusually small for a Jurassic sauropod. It could achieve a maximum adult size of about 20 feet. Although this may seem like considerably large size, other members of the family Brachiosauridae could grow as long as 80 feet and weighed 40 to 50 tons. Its weight is estimated at about 500 to 700 kilos. It is believed that the Europasaurus was a dwarf species that developed do the limited resources present in its environment.
The name Europasaurus is comprised of two words. 'Europa' stands for 'Europe'. The suffix 'saurus' is derived from the Greek word 'sauros' which means 'lizard'. Thus the name 'Europasaurus' translates to 'lizard from Europe'.
The specific name Europasaurus holgeriis chosen to honor HolgerLudtke, who discovered the fossils of the Europasaurus.
The nomenclature of the remains of the Europasaurus was done by a group of scientists, Sander, Mateus, Laven, etc.
The Europasaurus is classified under sub order Sauropodomorpha, clade Neosauropoda and clade Macronaria. Macronaria is a class that includes dinosaurs with large nostrils such as the Brachiosaurus and the Camarasaurus. The Europasaurus is believed to be slightly more evolved than the Camarasaurus. Except for its size, the Europasaurus fairly resembles the Brachiosaurus.
This relationship with the higher sauropods indicates that the dwarfism seen in the genus Europasaurus is an acquired trait. It most likely developed this condition when its surroundings could not sustain its large size.
- Island dwarfism is one aspect of the Foster's rule or the Island rule. This rule elaborates that organisms in an ecosystem get bigger or smaller in size depending upon the resources available to them.
- This explains the evolution of the enormous Jurassic and Cretaceous sauropods and also dwarfs like the Europasaurus. In the case of the Europasaurus, the specific phenomenon of insular dwarfism can be applied. It indicates that when larger species are contained on islands or in habitats that are isolated from other habitats, the organisms residing in these environments become smaller and smaller.
- The larger specimens do not survive for long while the smaller specimens fare better. These smaller specimens produce progeny which are also small and thus a dwarf race comes into existence.
- During the Jurassic period, Europe comprised of clusters of small islands. The Europasaurus was likely quarantined in one of these islands and was cut off from resources it needed to grow to the large size which was customary for sauropods.
- This phenomenon was seen with the pygmy mammoths of North America.
Discovery of fossils
The remains of the Europasaurus were discovered in a quarry in Germany. They were found by HolgerLudtke in the Langenberg quarry in Lower Saxony in the early 2000s.
They were named and classified the year 2006.
Nature of fossils
- The fossils of the Europasaurus consisted of many individuals. There were about twenty seen when the holotype specimen was discovered. There were adults as well as juvenile specimens in the mix.
- There was another unusual characteristic seen in the fossils of the Europasaurus. The adult specimens had two distinct sizes. The smaller of these two were clearly much larger than the juvenile specimens.
- The significance of this phenomenon is yet unknown. Scientists posit that this could indicate sexual dimorphism. But such variable physical sizes between males and females have hitherto only been seen in avian dinosaurs. And considering the level of evolution of the Europasaurus, this seems unlikely.
- Some paleontologists believe that the different sizes can be attributed to separate races r sub species. They may have been carried by water currents from one island to another and hence were found in one single place. This explanation seems more plausible.
Octavio Mateus is a contemporary Portuguese paleontologist. He led the team scientists which named and classified the Europasaurus.
Mateus was born in the year 1975 and has finished his education in Portugal. His field of interest is the dinosaurs of the Jurassic and the Cretaceous period. He has worked in Portugal, France, Germany and Angola for various excavation expeditions. He was very influential in discovering the first dinosaur of Angola.
- The most distinguishing physical feature of the Europasaurus was its small size. The largest discovered individuals were only about 6 meters long. The weight of the Europasaurus is estimated to be about 1000 pounds. These dimensions clearly differentiate this dinosaur from other larger sauropods.
- The Europasaurus showed an elevation on the anterior portion of its skull, indicating that it likely possessed a crest on its head. Its head was very small, a feature seen in all Brachiosaurids. A large head could not have been borne by the slender neck of the larger sauropods.
- The small size of the Europasaurus made its neck seem even longer as compared to its body.
- It had short and stocky legs.
- The tail of the Europasaurus was thick and moderately long.
Habits and habitat
The Europasaurus was an herbivore like other sauropods. It derived its sustenance from the shrubs and trees of the European islands.
It is likely that it did not have any major predators in its environment. The island setting would have been incompatible with larger carnivorous dinosaurs. This is also shown by the numerous individuals discovered in the German quarry.
It is unknown whether the Europasaurus lived in herds. Apart from the number of fossils found together, there no other evidence that provides information about the social habits of the Europasaurus.
The habitat of the Europasaurus consisted of small islands which consisted of plains and grasslands.
The Europasaurus was related to the other macronarians such as the titanosauriformes, the camarasaurids and the Laurasiformes. It is difficult to determine which group gave rise to the Europasaurus.
Since no other dinosaur bones were found in the vicinity of the fossils of the Europasaurus, there is no evidence that it coexisted with other dinosaurs. But it probably shared its environment with other Jurassic vertebrates.
The Europasaurus is amongst the very few known dwarf dinosaurs, the other well-known documented case being the Magyarosaurus.
Its discovery was vital in understanding insular dwarfism in dinosaurs.
Just for fun we have a soundclip available for you to hear what a Europasaurus could've sounded like. Click to the Dinosaur Sounds area to hear it. Please note that the dinosaur sounds are only for entertainment and are not an actual fact.