Nolan: Look at the size of that footprint! I’ve never seen anything like it before!
Phillips: I have. Once… in a museum.
Lost Continent (film), 1951
Kuiper was very impressed by the size of these dinosaur tracks. He says they’re even bigger than the ones of his Irish Wolfhound friendos. We encountered these 200 million year old tracks at the Badlands Petrified Gardens on our roadtrip this summer. Ladies and gentlefolks, this South Dakota museum is DOG FRIENDLY (at time of this writing), so Kuiper rates it 2 ears up.
Have you ever wondered how fossilized tracks (“ichnites”) are formed, and how they manage to survive? There are some pretty precise prerequisites to preserving prints for posterity. In general, the ground usually needs to be wet, but not too wet. The tracks need to be buried quickly, covered by more sediment and eventually harden into rock. Then comes the really hard part; someone has to find them, usually with the help of erosion. Sometimes what we find are actually “undertracks,” or the bottom of tracks, which may be what we see here.
Just like archaeologists, paleontologists use every clue they can find to learn about the past. Fossils that don’t include a part of an animal are called “trace” fossils (vs. “body” fossils.) Trace fossils are actually more common; one animal can leave many footprints. In addition to tracks, fossilized clues may include burrows, coprolites & urolites (solid and liquid waste), gastroliths (stones that some animals use to help digest their food), and sometimes the food itself. In 2003, paleontologists in Germany uncovered a 17 million year old stash of 1800 fossilized nuts, presumably the 401k of some sort of prehistoric miniature giant hamster.
Unless we find the bones nearby, we don’t always know exactly which animals the trace fossils came from, but we can still learn a lot from them. We can take a look at behavior (e.g. did they travel in big groups?), speed, size, diet. We also know for sure that the animal was right there at some point in time (whereas carcasses can be moved.)
Kuiper has decided this warrants further study, so we’ve enrolled in a (scent) tracking class that starts soon. Have you ever seen a sighthound track?
Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbpcTasgAyi/