A gigantic Sauropod dinosaur, which roamed across present-day northern China in the Lower Cretaceous period (about 125 to 140 million years ago), has only left fossilized footprints from its hind feet behind, even though it was a four-legged animal, according to a new study.
At first, the scientists though that the dinosaur was actually swimming when it left the elusive footprints, as it was pushing its back legs against the bottom of a body of water and it was using its front legs to paddle.
However, a new study – published Thursday (Feb. 18) in the journal Scientific Reports – a team of researchers suggested that the footprints might not have been made by an enormous swimming dinosaur.
Dr. Peter Falkingham, co-author of the new study and Research Fellow in the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Structure and Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College, London, said that the mysterious fore- and hind-foot only track do not necessarily mean the animal was swimming. Although the animal was probably just walking along, the tracks are still worth studying, according to Dr. Falkingham.
Researchers explained that Sauropod footprints are usually quite flat. These animals are known for their enormous sizes – the group includes the largest animals to have ever lived on land, such as Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and others. The largest ones measured over one hundred feet (about 30.48 metres). They likely stepped vertically, in a similar way to modern-day elephants, according to the researchers.
Dr. Falkingham said that the new-found footprints were not flat; they had a big bulge in the middle and were somewhat pushed up, probably due to the toes which were pushing the sediment back. Only the hind footprints were probably left in the ground because the consistency of the sediment prevented the dinosaur’s front feet to leave any prints, Falkingham explained.
Because Sauropods walked on four legs, but only their hind feet left prints behind, that might shed some light about their body mass distribution. The animals’ centre of gravity was likely closer to their hind legs, according to Dr. Falkingham.
Steve Brusatte, a palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, said that even though the results of the new study are not that surprising, they still show that studying them can help better understand how these dinosaurs lived and behaved. Footprints are records of behaviour and they also record real events, like animals interacting with each other, moving around, interacting with their environments, and so on.
Nowadays, the largest land animal is the African elephant, which can grow up to sixteen to twenty-five feet (almost five to 7.62 metres) in length and weigh about four to seven tons. The blue whales are the closest in size to sauropod dinosaurs, with a length of over ninety feet (27.43 metres), according to the researchers.
Image Source: news. europa wire. eu