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Bob Strauss

The Dinosaurs of Transylvania

By September 3, 2010

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For most of the 20th century, the Transylvania region of Romania was known (if at all) for its vampires--a mythical association that probably started with the real, historical Vlad the Impaler, a deranged potentate who liked to spike enemy armies on sharp sticks. Among dinosaur cognoscenti, though, Transylvania has become the go-to location for bizarre titanosaurs, hadrosaurs and theropods--as witness the recent discovery of Balaur bondoc (Romanian for "stocky dragon"), an unusually muscular raptor with two, count 'em, two oversized claws on each of its hind feet.

By itself, the late Cretaceous Balaur would be a stunning discovery, but you have to factor in its close contemporaries Magyarosaurus (a "dwarf" sauropod that only weighed about a ton) and Telmatosaurus, a comparably sized but extremely primitive duck-billed dinosaur that seemed to have been stuck in an evolutionary time warp. What's the explanation? Well, these dinosaurs lived on islands dotting the shallow seas that covered much of central and eastern Europe at this time, and we all know from Charles Darwin that organisms trapped on island habitats can evolve in some very strange directions. One thing's for sure: Balaur bondoc won't be the last bizarre dinosaur dredged up in Transylvania!

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