Your Daily Fossil



Mounted specimen from the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands. 

Reconstruction by Mauricio Anton with a common hedgehog for scale. 

When: Miocene (~11 - 5 million years ago)

Where: One island that now is part of Italy

What:Deinogalerix is a comparatively giant relative of the hedgehog. It lived on what is now the Gargano peninsula in Italy, but during the Miocene this region was a separate island. Much of Italy during this time period was a series of isolate islands, owing to the higher water level. Deinogalerix was about five times the size of a common hedgehog, more the size of a small fox. However, with a skull about 1/3rd the total length of its whole body, it was proportioned very differently. An eight inch (~20 cm) skull on a 24 inch (~60cm) body isn’t too out of proportion for many of the Lipotyphla (the order that includes hedgehogs, shrews, moles, and solenodons), and it appears Deinogalerix saw no reason to shrink down its head just because of its growth spurt.  I have called this animal a hedgehog, and it is in that grouping, but it did not look much at all like the little spiny animal shown above. Within the hedgehog family, its closet relatives are not true hedgehogs, but rather the gymnures or ‘moon-rats’. These animals have not developed spines as protection and are covered with a coat of long course hairs. 

On Gargano island Deinogalerix would have been one of the top predators, filling a coyote type niche and hunting smaller vertebrates.  Deinogalerix appears to have been endemic (only found in this one spot) to this paleo-island. This isolation is what allowed the species to evolve to such great sizes, another example of island gigantism is the giant rabbit, Nuralagus