The stegosaurus, one of the most familiar plant-eating dinosaurs from the Jurassic Period that resembles a dragon, left a lasting impression on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
A team of palaeontologists from the University of Edinburgh report around 50 newly identified footprints on the Isle of Skye confirming the dinosaur, previously unknown in the region, roamed there around 170 million years ago.
“We knew there were giant long-necked sauropods and jeep-sized carnivores, but we can now add plate-backed stegosaurs to that roster, and maybe even primitive cousins of the duck-billed dinosaurs too,” says study lead Steve Brusatte.
The team of palaeontologists discovered two different fossil sites.
These include the first fossil on the Isle of a track-type called Deltapodus, most likely created by a stegosaurian dinosaur.
They also found a three-toed footprint, representing multiple sizes of early carnivorous theropods and a series of larger tracks that they tentatively identified as large-bodied herbivorous ornithopod dinosaurs.
The researchers suggest the tracks show a “snapshot of a ‘day in the life’ of a rare Middle Jurassic ecosystem”.
Fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period, which was a time of major evolutionary diversification in many dinosaur species, are generally rare.
The Isle of Sky is an exception and the discovery means that the site at Brothers’ Point – called Rubha nam Brathairean in Gaelic – is now recognised as one of the oldest-known fossil records of this major dinosaur group found anywhere in the world.
“These discoveries are making Skye one of the best places in the world for understanding dinosaur evolution in the Middle Jurassic,” says Brusatte.
The sedimentary rock record adds new insights to the island’s rich fossil records.
“These new track sites help us get a better sense of the variety of dinosaurs that lived near the coast of Skye during the Middle Jurassic than what we can glean from the island’s body fossil record,” says lead author Paige dePolo.
They were revealed by recent storm activity in an area that has been long popular for fossil prospecting, and the researchers say their discovery highlights the importance of re-visiting previously explored locations.
Amelia Nichele is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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