for National Geographic News
Meet the smallest of the biggest.
Compared to other sauropodslong-necked, small-headed, plant-eatersa newfound dinosaur species is downright tiny.
The largest sauropods, the brachiosaurs, were the biggest land animals ever, measuring 85 feet long (26 meters long).
The new species, however, grew to only 20 feet (6.2 meters) long.
Researchers found 11 different specimens of these dwarf sauropods, both adults and juveniles, in Germany. The animals lived on an island, a type of environment where limited food resources often encourage species to evolve into smaller forms over generations.
The quarry where the 150-million-year-old fossilized bones were found, near the town of Goslar in northern Germany, was part of an island during the late Jurassic period.
"We're talking here about a spectacular find, with skull material, which is very rare in sauropods," said Octávio Mateus, a co-author of the study and a professor at the Museum of Lourinhã and the New University of Lisbon, in Portugal.
"In North America they've found a few [sauropods with skull material], but not in Europe. We're very excited, because [in the new find] we have the juveniles and the adults, and this allows us to understand how they grew during their lifetimes."
The authors have named the genus Europasaurus holgeri"Europasaurus" meaning "reptile from Europe" and "holgeri" after Holger Lüdtke, who discovered the first of the E. holgeri bones. Lüdtke, a private collector, turned the find over to the researchers.
The fossils were found in an unlikely location, according to Mateus.
"This was not supposed to happen," he said, "because all those layers were supposed to be marine layers containing only marine animals. We didn't expect to find dinosaurs, but we did."
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