Body Size, Structure, Biology and Encephalization Quotient of Palaeoloxodon ex gr. P. falconeri from Spinagallo Cave (Hyblean plateau, Sicily)
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EoFauna Scientific Research
Sapienza University of Rome
Publish date: 2015-12-28
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2015;26(2):102–109

During the period of 1958 and 1960, the richest sample of Palaeoloxodon ex gr. P. falconeri (104 individuals) was recovered from Spinagallo cave (Syracuse, Hyblean Plateau, SE Sicily). Subsequently, several composite skeletons were reconstructed. Four of them are today exhibited at the Paleontological Museum of Department of Earth Sciences of Sapienza University of Rome (MPUR). Three of the skeletons represented by an adult male (MPUR/V n1), an adult female (MPUR/V n2) and a calf (MPUR/V n3), were analysed in order to reconstruct the physical appearance and estimate the body mass of the species. The rigorous skeletal restorations suggest that the males approached 100 cm at the shoulder height in the flesh and over 300 kg in body mass, whereas females were around 80 cm in height and around 165 kg. The sexual dimorphism in Palaeoloxodon ex gr. P. falconeri was concluded to be comparable to extant elephants. The small size probably had a direct influence in the animals’ physiology and biology; including a shorter life span, rapid growth, and changes in thermoregulation mechanisms. The drastic allometric size reduction experienced by Siculo-Maltese dwarf elephants, produced noticeable changes in the skull, showing some paedomorphic features that were present in young P. antiquus and in extant juvenile elephants, and in the axial and appendicular skeleton proportions respect to its putative mainland ancestor Palaeoloxodon antiquus. Some unique traits observed in the limb bones suggest a more agile locomotion in P. ex gr. P. falconeri than other elephantids. Nevertheless, the most noteworthy change, is the positive allometric increase of the brain case. Indeed, the brain of P. ex gr. P. falconeri was proportionally 13 times larger than that of P. antiquus. The large change in brain proportions was related to the need to maintain the minimal functional volume of the brain when the size of the skull was drastic reduced.