Giant Sauropods Were Weird According to new Tracks found in Texas 19

Giant Sauropods

Giant Sauropods, a dinosaur group of such enormous height and build that they’re frequently referred to as ‘thunder lizards,’ were the largest animals to ever walk the Earth. To accommodate and convey their gigantic bodies, these colossal monoliths — including Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Diplodocus, among others – required four thiccc (not a misspelling), muscular legs. At least, that’s how it feels most of the time. Perhaps.

Some puzzling, old traces published in a 2019 study could provide new evidence for a long-held belief in paleontology: that these ponderous giants could walk on two legs rather than four, defying what their quadruped status (and simple physics) would suggest.

Giant Sauropods Two Stepping to Country Music in Texas

Giant Sauropods
Sauropod footprints at the Coffee Hollow A-Male trackways. (© Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country)

As bizarre as it may appear, this theory extends back numerous decades, to when paleontological researcher Roland T. Bird discovered some peculiar dinosaur footprints on ranch property in Bandera County, Texas. The tracks were uncommon in that they were manus alone, alluding to footprint impressions created by the front extremities rather than the back limbs (known as pes).

“Without a doubt made by a sauropod, but as I interpret them, made by an individual while swimming,” “They were all typical forefeet impressions as if the animal had just been barely kicking bottom.” As contemporary paleontology discovered that sauropods were mostly land animals, not aquatic as previously believed, Bird’s interpretation of these manus-only traces went out of popularity.

Alternate theories and conclusion

The alternate explanation for manus-only footprints is that the giant sauropods forefeet (which carry more of the organism’s body mass) are all that produces track imprints on certain types of terrain, whereas the rear limbs, which support less weight, make less impact on soil and sediment.

While this is currently the widely accepted explanation of manus-only sauropod footprints, the possibility of dinosaurs wading across shallow, shoulder-high pools of water on their front feet (with their back limbs not hitting the ground) has never been completely impossible. (See artist depiction below).

Giant Sauropods
“A whimsical exploration of the punting hypothesis.” (Illustration by R.T. Bakker/Farlow et al., Ichnos, 2019)

The discovery of a sequence of giant sauropods tracks in Texas allowed paleontologists to examine the assertions’ merits. The imprints were first discovered in 2007 in the Coffee Hollow limestone quarry, which is part of the Glen Rose Formation, a geological emergence that has numerous dinosaur footprints earliest known around 110 million years (within the Cretaceous period).

Regarding the magnitude of the footprints (up to 70 centimeters [27.5 inches] long and wide), the tracks are most likely those of bigger and more giant sauropods, and the track marks appear to be ‘genuine footprints’ left on the top surface, rather than under tracks (impressions made in lower layers of sediment).

“The Coffee Hollow trackways, like other manus-only sauropod trackways, are probably explained by greater differential pressure exerted on the substrate by the forefeet than the hindfeet,” the authors wrote in their paper. “However, the possibility that they indicate unusual locomotion cannot be ruled out at this time.”

“Although it is worth considering the possibility that R.T. Bird was right in thinking that (at least some?) Glen Rose Formation manus-only giant sauropods trackways were created by dinosaurs traipsing in water deep enough for their makers to punt, dragging themselves along by their forefeet whilst also their rear legs drifted above the underside.”

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