Palaeontologists have discovered the world’s smallest dinosaur footprints, made 110 million years ago in what is now South Korea.
The tracks, just one centimetre long, were made by a member of the raptor group of species – dinosaurs which, aided by the Jurassic Park franchise, have a popular reputation for being wholly carnivorous, quite large and very vicious.
Dromaeosauriformipes rarus, however, report the scientists, led by Anthony Romilio from Australia’s University of Queensland, was tiny.
“The dinosaur that made them was an animal you could have easily held in your hand,” Romilio says.
The tracks were originally discovered by Kyung Soo Kim from South Korea’s Chinju National University of Education. Romilio and his team calculated the size of the creature that made them by taking careful measurements and then multiplying the print length by 4.5 to arrive at an approximate hip height.
“The diminutive sizes of these new tracks are extraordinary; the tracks were made by tiny dinosaurs about the size of sparrows,” he explains.
“Raptors placed only two of their toes on the ground, while the third toe was retracted like a cat’s claw.”
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers say the allocation of the footprints to D.rarus, is only tentative. This is primarily because the evidence does not allow them to deduce whether they were made by an adult or a baby animal.
“Very small dinosaur species like the Chinese Microraptor were crow-sized, but these had feet too large to match the South Korean footprints,” Romilio says.
“If the tracks were made by dinosaur chicks, we are unclear as to the specific dinosaur that made them, since dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Utahraptor had larger feet than the ones discovered in these new tracks.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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