The footprint of a baby stegosaur was recently found by an international team of palaeontologists. The single footprint was left by a cat-sized dinosaur around 100 million years ago in China. Lida Xing, associate professor, University of Geosciences (Beijing), found the first traces of the footprint following which an investigation was undertaken, a note on the website of University of Queensland said. Dr Anthony Romilio, a researcher at the University of Queensland and a member of the team that carried out the study, said the footprint was made by a herbivorous, armoured dinosaur known broadly as a stegosaur – the family of dinosaurs that includes the famed stegosaurus.
This little dinosaur, Dr Romilio said in an official note from the University of Queensland, probably had spikes on its tail and bony plates along its back as an adult much like the stegosaurus. At less than 6-centimetre, this is the smallest stegosaurus footprint known in the world, he said, adding this was in strong contrast with other prints found in China and that measured up to 30 centimetres. Similarly, the prints found in places such as Broome in Western Australia, too, were comparatively larger and measured up to 80 centimetres.
The tiny footprint, according to researchers, had characteristics similar to that of other stegosaur footprints with three short, wide, round toe impressions. “Stegosaurs typically walked with their heels on the ground, much like humans do, but on all fours which creates long footprints,” Dr Romilio said.
But, he added, the tiny track indicated that this dinosaur was probably moving with its “heel lifted off the ground, much like a bird or a cat” does today. “We’ve only previously seen shortened tracks like this when dinosaurs walked on two legs.”
Associate professor Xing, who first discovered the footprint, said it was plausible young stegosaurus were toe-walkers. “This could be possible as this is the ancestral condition and a posture of most dinosaurs, but the stegosaur could also have transitioned to heel-walking as it got older,” Dr Xing said.
She said only a complete set of tracks of these tiny footprints would help us with the answer, but unfortunately “we only have a single footprint.” On crowded track sites, she said, finding the tiny prints will be challenging for the researchers. “The footprints made by tiny armoured dinosaurs are much rarer than those formed by other groups of dinosaurs,” Xing said.
She said the study had identified nine different dinosaur track sites from this locality, adding now they will look even closer to see if they can find more of these tiny tracks.
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