Ancient Tracks Show Diversity Of Australia's Dinosaurs During Cretaceous Period
Paleontologists have revealed the discovery of the world's biggest dinosaur footprint as well as the world's most diverse collection of dinosaur tracks in Australia.
Giant Footprint Of Herbivorous Dinosaur Sauropod
The gigantic footprint belonged to a sauropod, an herbivorous dinosaur marked by its long neck, which likely measured 17 feet and 9 inches high at the hips. The track, which measures nearly 5 feet and 9 inches, is bigger than the previous record holder, which measured just nearly 3 feet and 9 inches.
The footprint is just one of a series of finds that scientists discovered in Australia's "Jurassic Park." Researchers also found 21 different dinosaur tracks and some rocks dating back from as early as 140 million years ago.
The footprints, which were between 140 million and 127 million years old, vary in size. They range from small, measuring about 8 inches, to very large, measuring over 5 feet in length.
Trace Fossils And Diversity Of Dinosaurs
The footprints are considered as trace fossils, left behind by animals but are not parts of the animals themselves.
The trace fossils revealed the diversity of dinosaurs that lived around the region during the Cretaceous period, the geologic period marked by relatively warm climate and an abundance of now-extinct marine reptiles, ammonites, and dinosaurs. The Cretaceous period ended with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, in which some three-quarters of animals and plants on the planet died out.
Dinosaur Hotspot In Australia
Analyses showed five different track types of predatory dinosaurs, six track types of sauropods, four track types of herbivorous ornithopods, and six track types of armored dinosaurs.
Paleontologist Steve Salisbury from the University of Queensland said that the findings show that Broome, a town on Australia's western coast, was once a dinosaur hot spot.
He said that the diversity of the tracks was unparalleled on a global level and made the area the "Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti." Serengeti in Africa currently hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world. The region hosts about 70 large mammal and 500 bird species.
"The overall diversity of the dinosaurian ichnofauna of the Broome Sandstone in the Yanijarri-Lurujarri section of the Dampier Peninsula is unparalleled in Australia, and even globally," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on March 24 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
"[T]his ichnofauna provides our only detailed glimpse of Australia's dinosaurian fauna during the first half of the Early Cretaceous," they added.
Tracks To Provide More Information About Iconic Prehistoric Animal
The tracks are not just fascinating. Scientists are also excited about the find since the dinosaur footprints can help them learn more about the anatomy, diversity, and evolution of the dinosaurs. Analyses of dinosaur bones allow scientists to study the iconic prehistoric animals, but footprints also offer an array of information about these large creatures.
"What stands out are [the footprints'] immense physical size and the great variety of dinosaur tracks found there," said paleontologist Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh. "Obviously, this part of Australia must have been a dinosaur stomping ground during the Early Cretaceous."