Image credits: uq.edu.au/Unsplash
A single cat-sized footprint led an international team of palaeontologists to the discovery of a tiny dinosaur that walked on Earth about 100 million years ago in China. University of Queensland researcher Dr. Anthony Romilio was part of the team that investigated the track of the footprint that was originally discovered by Associate Professor Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences (Beijing). The researchers then found out that the footprint was made a herbivore and armoured dinosaur is known broadly as ‘stegosaur, said Dr. Romilio. They also predicted that the extinct animal could have spikes on its tail and bony plates. Dr. Romilio also called it the “smallest stegosaur footprint known in the world.”
"This footprint was made by a herbivorous, armoured dinosaur known broadly as a stegosaur -- the family of dinosaurs that includes the famed stegosaurus," Dr. Romilio said. "Like the stegosaurus, this little dinosaur probably had spikes on its tail and bony plates along its back as an adult.
"With a footprint of less than six centimetres, this is the smallest stegosaur footprint known in the world. It's in strong contrast with other stegosaur prints found at the Chinese track site which measured up to 30 centimetres, and prints found in places like Broome in Western Australia where they can be up to 80 centimetres,” he added.
The University of Queensland in a research paper published on April 16 stated that the tiny footprint has similar characteristics to other stegosaur footprints found across the globe with “three short, wide, round toe impressions.” However, the researchers also noted that the print was not elongated like the larger counterpart prints were discovered at the track sites. This further suggests, according to palaeontologists, that “the young stegosaur had a different behaviour.”
“Stegosaurs typically walked with their heels on the ground, much like humans do, but on all fours which creates long footprints,” Dr Romilio explained.
“The tiny track shows that this dinosaur had been moving with its heel lifted off the ground, much like a bird or cat does today. We’ve only previously seen shortened tracks like this when dinosaurs walked on two legs,” he added. Associate Professor Xing said that it could be possible that “young stegosaurs were toe-walkers.”