I've been busy writing new material for the start of this university semester and one lecture is a brief introduction to the origins and evolution of life. Whilst deliberating about what should actually go into such a vast topic (and not overrun my one hour slot!) I was flicking through a vertebrate palaeontology textbook and saw the genus name Deinogalerix and I knew I had to include this monstrous mammal! Discovered in the limestone fissures of eastern Italy during excavations in 1969, this hairy hedgehog relative quickly became one of the most interesting finds. Weighing in at 9 kg and 60 cm long this is one of the biggest lipotyphla (used to be called the insectivores) genera of all time. This “enormous” size was promoted by island endemism and a lack of large predators (apart from an endemic otter and a few crocodiles), which meant that this hairy hedgehog became one of the apex predators during the latest Miocene (around 6 million years ago)!
In 1969 a team of palaeontologists, Cornelis Beets, Hendrik Schalke and Matthijs Freudenthal from the Dutch Rijksmuseum van Geologie en Mineralogie from Leiden, discovered and excavated various fossil lagerstätten in the fissures of the Mesozoic limestone of the Gargano promontory, exposed by the intense quarrying activities in the area. For three summers the team, aided also by other researchers from all over Europe, searched the red clays for bones and teeth of rodents, insectivores and artiodactyls. One of the most intriguing specimens of the endemic fauna recovered was a large insectivore mammal, described in 1972 by Freudenthal as Deinogalerix and attributed to the family of the Erinaceidae, which includes modern hedgehogs and the moonrats.