Strange fossilized tracks reveal the tracks of an injured dinosaur

129 million years ago, A theropod dinosaur wandered through a wetland in eastern Spain. But something was wrong with his left foot.

Therapods characteristically have three long front toes, but this one appeared to be missing a finger. Sporadic, brief marks indicated that something had happened to his innermost toe.

It’s likely the dinosaur was injured — a conclusion researchers came to after thoroughly examining a series of mysterious, well-preserved tracks. Researchers write in the journal Plus one This week has pieced together the story of the injured theropod. Its odd gait and deformed toe tell a tale of adaptation, and also shed light on why birds—the descendants of theropods—are still susceptible to the same types of foot injuries.

The mysterious traces – When theropod tracks were first discovered, it wasn’t immediately clear to the researchers studying them why they looked so strange.

“We had to clarify many initial questions,” says Angela D. Buscalioni, paleontologist and co-author of the study The opposite. Were the tracks made by one or more people? Was it possible that the tracks were deformed during the fossilization process?

For the study, experts from multiple disciplines analyzed various details of the tracks to better understand the person who made them.

This graphic shows a side-by-side comparison of what the theropod’s feet might have looked like based on its tracks.

The place where the tracks were found, called Las Hoyas, has preserved numerous animal remains and tracks due to its unique historical climate. Once a freshwater wetland, its numerous microbes would devour dead animals and their footprints, sculpting and replicating their remains in the fossilization process.

But the fossils at Las Hoyas look a little odd, thanks to the work of the microbes. “The footprints are not pretty [and] don’t have perfect shapes,” says Buscalioni. In the case of the therapod’s tracks, “the microbial mat was able to record many other important details such as nail scratches, wrinkles and many fish tracks in the area.”

To get a better look at the theropod tracks, the researchers made 3D models and compared them to footprints of other dinosaurs. They uncovered the key details: The tracks are from a dinosaur that had an odd gait, and it’s likely a deformity was to blame.

How the dinosaur walked – It’s not uncommon to find remains of injured or sick dinosaurs, but researchers haven’t really found many foot deformities. Buscalioni says that from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous, only 15 tracks showing foot deformities in dinosaurs have been discovered. This period spans 125 million years.

Theropods that walked on two legs were prone to toe injuries. Shutterstock

In theropods, a deformed inner toe is more common than other foot injuries. That was what plagued the person who left their mark on Las Hoyas.

“Often, a typical theropod track is narrow, with longer strides, and with almost aligned left and right footprints,” says Buscaloni. But this dinosaur walked with a much wider gait and took smaller strides.

The animal seemed to have been dealing with the deformed toe for a long time; It wasn’t a temporary injury. That’s because the animal appeared to be pressing its entire foot to the ground and also appeared to be taking regular steps.

And while it’s unclear how the dinosaur was injured, its strange foot anatomy sheds light on why some animals are prone to the same deformities today.

Thank you Evolution – Theropod feet look a lot like chicken feet. Both animals have three-toed feet, with a fourth toe on the back of the leg.

chicken feet.Shutterstock

Given that chickens evolved from theropods, it’s no coincidence that toe deformities are also common in poultry. Their innermost toes can become crooked or bent, and theropods may have suffered from the same problem.

These deformities typically result from genetics, environmental factors, or nutritional deficiencies, the researchers write. Other birds such as B. domestic ostriches have been documented with toe deformities.

Because of the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, “it’s interesting to find equivalences in their pathologies,” says Buscalioni.

And the injured theropod at Las Hoyas was probably not the only one. If the frequency of foot injuries in birds is any indication, many more deformed dinosaurs could have been limping around.

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