Largest Dinosaur Footprint Found in Australia

SCIENCE

Scientists have described a remarkable collection of dinosaur tracks on beaches in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. (BBC)

How do paleontologists drone for dinos in the Kimberley?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list at key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map of “Australia’s Jurassic Park.”

Behold the gorgeous “Jurassic Park” of Western Australia. High tides cover telltale trace fossils in the amazing Broome Sandstone, the offshore rock formations in this photo.
Photograph by N. Gaunt. “The Dinosaurian Ichnofauna of the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian–Barremian) Broome Sandstone of the Walmadany Area (James Price Point), Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 36. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2016.1269539

Discussion Ideas

  • New research details the rich ichnofauna of the northern Western Australian coast. What is ichnofauna?
    • Ichnofauna describes the diversity of an area’s animal life as indicated by trace fossils such as tracks, footprints, and burrows. Ichnofauna is only an indication of the true biodiversity of the area, as some fossils are preserved more abundantly than others.

 

Western Australia’s Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodians, originally concerned about the possible development of a natural gas facility in the area, were very involved in the paleontological expeditions. Here, Goolarabooloo Maja (law boss) Richard Hunter gives scale to a massive sauropod print. The scale bar he is holding is 40 centimeters (16 inches) long, and the footprint is about 1.75 meters long (about 5 feet, 9 inches).
Photograph courtesy Steven W. Salisbury, Anthony Romilio, Matthew C. Herne, Ryan T. Tucker & Jay P. Nair. “The Dinosaurian Ichnofauna of the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian–Barremian) Broome Sandstone of the Walmadany Area (James Price Point), Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 36. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2016.1269539

  • The world’s biggest dinosaur footprint yet discovered was identified in Western Australia. What type of dinosaur made the footprint? Watch the short CNN video above for some help.

 

  • If this Australian sauropod left the biggest footprint yet discovered on Earth, why is it just being discovered now? Take a look through our study guide on dinosaurs in the Kimberley for some help.
    • Fossils are (usually) not so easy to find! Fossil hunting is a skill.
      • Footprints are rare: Environmental conditions need to be perfect for loose sand to harden to sandstone and preserve a footprint for millions of years, with no significant erosion due to wind or water.
      • Identification is difficult: Some dinosaur footprints don’t look like footprints at first glance. Giant sauropods, for instance, left circular prints that can blend in with natural weathering and erosion patterns. Here is a sauropod print, and here is a photo of Australian paleontologists using silicon rubber to make a cast of a sauropod print that might not be obvious unless you know what you’re looking for.
      • The landscape is forbidding: Some of the footprint fossils are found along jagged cliffs, crumbling rocky reefs, and underwater in intertidal zones. According to the BBC, “Many are only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, meaning the team has to work quickly.”
      • It’s a remote area: The Kimberley region, the most northwestern part of Australia, is among the most sparsely populated areas on the continent.

 

  • The Western Australian coast is so rich with dinosaur footprints its been nicknamed Australia’s “Jurassic Park.” Besides sauropods, what other types of dinosaurs have left their mark in the Broome Sandstone? Take a look at the second bookmark in today’s MapMaker Interactive map for some help.
    • Twenty-one different types. There are about six different types of tracks for meat-eating dinosaurs; about the same number for sauropod dinosaurs; about four different types of ornithopod dinosaur tracks—so, two-legged plant-eaters—and really exciting, I think, are six types of armored dinosaur tracks, including stegosaurs, which we’ve never seen before in Australia.” So, besides sauropods:
      • theropods such as Australovenator, a swift predator of the Early Cretaceous
      • ornithopods such as Muttaburrasaurus, which was first identified on the other side of the continent, in Queensland, Australia, in 1963
      • thyreophorans such as Minmi, and, now, stegosaurus, whose bodies were covered with plates of armor

 

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

BBC: Kimberley fossil tracks are Australia’s ‘Jurassic Park’

Nat Geo: Dinosaurs in Western Australia map

Nat Geo: Droning for Dinosaurs study guide

Stephen Hui Geological Museum: Dinosaur Footprints

(extra credit!) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology: The Dinosaurian Ichnofauna of the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian–Barremian) Broome Sandstone of the Walmadany Area (James Price Point), Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia

2 responses to “Largest Dinosaur Footprint Found in Australia

  1. Pingback: Diamonds Are in the Pink | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: Beyond March Mammal Madness | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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