Injured dinosaur left unusual footprints

This week in Research Highlightsour series of articles featuring notable recent studies from all PLOS journals, PLOS ONE authors Carlos M. Herrera-Castillo of the Autonomous University of Madrid and his colleagues analyzed a set of unusual dinosaur footprints found in Spain. The study presents evidence of abnormalities in the footprint due to an injured toe, causing the dinosaur to walk atypically in response to the injury. Read more about the study design and authors’ findings below or skip to complete survey on our review site.

Background and Analysis

Fossil tracks are an excellent source of information on the behavior of extinct animals. In the study, the researchers examined an anomalous track comprising six footprints of an unidentified theropod dinosaur preserved in the locality of Las Hoyas in Spain, dating to around 129 million years ago. The authors used various techniques to describe and model the pathways and compare them to other pathways.

Results

The authors observed that the tracks made by the right foot display all three toes, but that the innermost toe of the left foot is represented only by extremely short, irregularly shaped marks in the sediment, indicating injury or a deformity of this toe. Additionally, the footprints are more widely spaced than typical theropod tracks, indicating that this dinosaur adjusted its gait to compensate for its injured foot. This is further supported by some deformities in the right prints which suggest that the animal was putting more weight on that side.

Conclusion

The authors note that similar toe deformities and compensating behaviors are also seen in modern birds, and that fossil theropod feet are often found with wounds on the innermost toes. Taken together, this evidence sheds light on how this dinosaur, and possibly many others, found ways to survive despite pathological setbacks.

The authors add: “We studied one of the best theropod tracks with a foot deformity, imprinted in a microbial mat that grew in a 129 Ma pond, when hundreds of fish were swimming around.”

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