Dinosaur Injuries Interpreted Through Footprints

Photo courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum and Rich McCrea.

Photo courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum and Rich McCrea.

A scientific paper published in Ichnos: An International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces, called “Vertebrate Ichnopathology: Pathologies Inferred from Dinosaur Tracks and Trackways from the Mesozoic”, focuses in-depth on a rarely published component of palaeontology—ichnopathology. Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum assisted nine other authors from Canada, the United States, and China in the benchmark multidisciplinary paper. Ichnopathology is the study of injuries and deformities displayed in fossilized footprints and trackways (a series of footprints). Just like people, dinosaurs suffered injuries from a variety of foot ailments. This study, focussing on carnivorous dinosaur footprints, is the first to examine the types and extent of injuries in great detail.

Some of the specimens from western Canada that were analyzed include a lengthy trackway of an allosauroid with a hip-injury, a footprint of a young tyrannosaur with a severely dislocated toe, and a trackway of an adult tyrannosaur with a missing inner toe. Other specimens included in study are theropod footprints from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of western North America and Asia.

The research described the abnormalities by studying the toe impressions, which include examples of swelling, extreme curvature, dislocation, fracture, and amputation.

A number of occurrences were also found in single trackways with significant deformation implying dislocation, fracture, or absence of a single toe. Preserved footprints and trackways demonstrated injuries were not infrequent and that non-life threatening injuries affected their locomotion. For example, 21% of all tyrannosaur prints known at the time of this study showed examples of ichnopathology.

The publication is not available without subscription; however, we are happy to answer any questions pertaining to this research.


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