142-million old fossilized footprints on a northern Germany beach help the scientific community delve one inch deeper in the social behavior of the extinct creatures.
What is extraordinary about the footprints is that they belong to two individuals. It is difficult to identify the species the two belonged to. It is also difficult to understand whether the two had been strolling on the beach at the same time or maybe years had passed until the second dinosaur has stepped along the footprints of the first.
Yet, what Pernille Troelsen of the University of Southern Denmark may say is that after analyzing the footprints, the research team discovered that one of the two dinosaurs was larger, while the other one smaller. Perhaps a mother and its baby?
The large dinosaur would have strolled at a leisurely pace of 3.9 miles per hour, while the smaller one at 6 miles per hour. The researchers suggest this would have been a leisurely pace as carnivorous dinosaurs, such as these are believed to have been, would normally run at approximately 25 miles per hour.
The bigger therapod’s footprints measured approximately 13.5 by 14.3 inches, while the smaller one’s footprints are 9.3 by 9.3 inches. By means of comparison, that would be a 15 shoe size for an U.S. adult, respectively a 6 shoe size.
By further analyzing the footprints, Ms. Troelsen concluded that the dinosaurs would have been approximately 5.2 feet and 3.6 feet in height, measured from the hip. It is unclear what species the two would have belonged to, yet, Ms. Troelsen suggests they would have been the carnivorous Megalosauripus. Typically reaching the same size as the more known Velociraptors, the Megalosauripus were also theropods, and agile ones.
The footprints of the smaller dinosaur seem to stumble from time to time, or to increase in intensity. As to the reasons behind these discontinuations, Ms. Troelsen suggested perhaps it found some prey or slipped on the sand or wanted to catch up with its larger and older peer.
While it is endearing to think the two could have been a parent and its baby and some theories suggest theropods and other dinosaurs would keep their offspring close for a while and would form a community just to protect them, it is also possible that the two sets of footprints marked in the sand of the northern Germany beach are years apart.
“They may be many years apart, in which case it maybe reflects two animals randomly crossing each other’s tracks. We can also see that a duckbill dinosaur has crossed their tracks at one time or another, so there has been some traffic in the area”.
Analyzing the social behavior of dinosaurs is a difficult task and shrouded in controversy. As these creatures disappeared millions of years ago, all there is left are tracks in time. Fossils, fossilized footprints and nests or occasional graveyards. With the aid of modern technology, computer simulations and models, graphics and more performant tools, the science is just in its infancy.
But footprints like these and other discovered in England, Spain and Germany are adding up to piles of evidence.
The study of the two sets of dinosaur footprints was presented at the European Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists, Poland and is pending publishing.
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