Scientists have discovered a brand new species of dinosaur - a dwarf dinosaur that lived on an island in Germany about 150 million years ago. It is the first known example of dwarfism in dinosaurs.
Researcher Martin Sander of the University of Bonn came across the dwarf dinosaur when colleagues offered him what they thought were the bones of young sauropods they had unearthed in marine beds in northern Germany.
"Yeah, well, I can always use some small dinosaurs, some young dinosaurs," said Martin Sander. "And then I sampled it and what happened is that these small dinosaurs were small dinosaurs, but they were not young dinosaurs. They were dwarfs."
Sander says the specific dinosaur researchers found is in the family of sauropods, or lizard-footed animals.
"It's a close relative to brachiosaurus," he said. "That's that big thing with the high neck that's kind of like a dinosaurean giraffe. And those things are quite big."
But the dwarf dinosaur was a fraction of the size. Analysis of its bones suggests the newly-discovered sauropod was slightly bigger than a car, compared to its relative, which measured up to 45 meters long and weighed 80 tons.
Researchers estimate the mini-sauropod lived about 150 million years ago. Its remains were discovered in an area that experts say was once submerged by sea. Sander says the sauropod probably got as small as it did because it lived on an island in the Lower Saxony basin.
"It's what's known as an island dwarf," noted Martin Sander. "And what's happening is if you introduce some species to an island, either it goes extinct or it adapts to the decreased resources and then it decreases in body size."
Sander says it's believed dwarf dinosaurs also existed in Romania and he is heading there next.
The discovery of the dwarf dinosaur was published in the journal Nature.