22 thoughts on “Big hedgehog, small sand dollars, diving schools

  1. Nice to read about the Gargano, my favorite study-object! And thanks for adding a link to an old paper of me, about the five-horned deer Hoplitomeryx. We know now that there were some five size groups of this artiodactyl, likely each occupying a different ecological niche. The smallest is as small as the largest hedgehog of the island (Deinogalerix), whereas the largest approximates the size of an elk (Alces). A similar situation is known from Crete (Candiacervus), the Ryukyu Islands of Japan (Cervus astylodon) and now also from Malta (material under study by me, John de Vos and George Lyras).


  2. Hi Alexandra, thanks very much for this reaction and update! Are the various Hoplitomeryx forms considered to be separate species? I have been to Malta, which is very interesting palaeontologically (small elephants etc.)


  3. Yes, the various Hoplitomeryx morphotypes can be considered separate species. A formal definition and description has not been given (yet), but I’m planning to do so (hoping the Italians are not faster! Mazza & Rustioni are also working on Hoplitomeryx, but mainly on material from Abruzzo national park; Mazza years ago agreed to ‘do’ the dentition, while I would focus on the postcranial). On the other hand, as you probably know, what is the precise boundary between species and morphotypes? Maybe we are dealing with a species with a huge variation, much like domestic animals such as the dog (compare Irish Wolfhound with Chihuahua!). Fortunately, paleontologists don’t bother so much about biological species, and for reasons of convenience, it is very practical to consider more than one Hoplitomeryx species. For your information, the type species H. matthei coincides with ‘my’ size class II, which means, one but smallest. There are two or three larger species, and one smaller. The material of deer of Malta, previously erronously named Cervus elaphus, shows similar size variation, just like Candiacervus and Hoplitomeryx.


  4. Hi Alexandra, I have seen your blog, and it looks very interesting!

    Thank you for this clarification.

    Definitions of species are indeed a problem at least since Linnaeus (on him, see elsewhere on this blog).

    There is, with dogs, the issue of human breeding on purpose, which did not happen with species like Hoplitomeryx.

    A lot of the definitions of species are based on “soft” body parts, which very rarely survive millions of years (though recently there were some discoveries on Tyrannosaurus rex tissues).

    A somewhat similar issue is the Canada goose, also varying in size, with some people defining it as various species. However, very probably the size differences in Hoplitomeryx (from big hedgehog to elk, as you wrote) are much bigger than in the Canada goose.


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