Fossil footprints allowed to restore the unusual gait of a lame dinosaur

(ORDO NEWS) — Examining the fossil footprints found in the Spanish region of Las Hoyas, scientists learned that the large dinosaur that left them had a foot injury.

The injury changed his gait in the same way that a similar injury changes the stride of modern birds, the descendants of ancient theropods, and probably did not affect his survival.

Fossil footprints are an excellent source of information about the behavior of extinct animals. Scientists from the Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain) discovered a chain of dinosaur footprints about 129 million years old in the Las Hoyas region. The tracks belonged to a large theropod, but the researchers were unable to identify its species.

Where the 129 million-year-old footprint site was, there was a muddy bank of a pond where a bacterial mat had grown. It is likely that the dinosaur was crossing shallow water heading towards the water.

The consistency and plasticity of the environment he walked on perfectly preserved his footprints, allowing scientists to explore the details.

The footprint track included six prints. The dinosaur that left them, like most theropods, moved on two legs. The height of his thigh was probably about two meters, and the weight could reach five tons.

The scientists used various modeling techniques to describe the dinosaur’s gait and also compared its footprints with those of other animals.

A unique discovery was the difference between the traces of the right and left foot. The right limb had three fingers, while the left inner finger was represented by only a short imprint of irregular shape. It is likely that the damage was the result of an injury or deformity of the finger.

This pathology was reflected in the gait of the dinosaur. The tracks were located at too great a distance, uncharacteristic for theropods. Some changes in the footprints of the right foot also indicated that the dinosaur leaned more strongly on the healthy leg when walking. So he changed his gait to compensate for the toe injury.

Similar finger deformities and a similar compensatory gait are often seen in modern birds, the closest relatives of ancient theropods.

Despite differences in size and vast differences in life span, these related animals show similar adaptations in response to similar injuries. Probably, the pathology did not affect the viability of the dinosaur – just as it often does not prevent birds from surviving.

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