December 4, 2015
'Dinosaur Disco' In Scotland's Isle of Skye Proves Behemoths Loved To Chill In Lagoons

In a stroke of luck, a group of paleontologists stumbled upon a jumble of sauropod footsteps in a flat of rock in Scotland, and the discovery of this so-called "dinosaur disco" is changing the way scientists view the biggest land animals ever to walk the Earth.

Scientists have dubbed the discovery a "dinosaur disco" because of the concentration of footsteps found at the fascinating location -- the Duntulm Formation of Cairidh Ghlumaig on Scotland's Isle of Skye, Discovery reported.

"There were clearly lots of sauropods moving all around this lagoon. They were at home there, they were thriving there. Looking at the chaotic jumble of tracks, it looks like a dance floor, like a dinosaur disco," said University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte, according to Reuters.

They found the site by mere happenstance. This particular location is only fully exposed a few hours a day and is most often shrouded in seaweed or sand, Brusatte told Christian Science Monitor. When a group of paleontologists headed to the spot in search of smaller fossils -- from crocodiles, fish, and shark -- the rock was exposed and they spotted a curious depression, so big it looked like a pothole.

"And then we noticed another one, and another one in this zig-zag pattern. It dawned on us pretty quickly that we had seen similar things before, not in Scotland but in other parts of the world. These were the footprints, and the handprints, of these huge long-neck dinosaurs … There are so many tracks crossing each other that it looks like a dinosaur disco preserved in stone."
The largest print was almost 28 inches wide.

They'd stumbled upon a series of footprints from a period that yields little evidence for paleontologists -- the Middle Jurassic Period, or 170 million years ago. Scotland's Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from this time can be found, according to Eureka Alert.

Back then, this area of Scotland was much different than it is today. Now, it's a rainy, windy, and cold place; but, when massive sauropods roamed the Earth, Scotland was closer to the equator and thus much warmer. The land was filled with rivers that emptied into the ocean, and lagoons dotted the shore.

Back in the Middle Jurassic, the layers of rock where the dinosaur disco was found were at the bottom a shallow, salt water lagoon. The presence of those sauropod footsteps in this spot proves to scientists that the massive creatures were just at home in the water as they were on land.

The creatures who left the remarkable tracks had four legs, long necks, long tails, legs like pillars, massive bodies, and liked munching on plants. The generations who left behind the dinosaur disco in Scotland were perhaps 50 feet long and up to 20 tons. Analysis of their footprints suggests they were early cousins to Brontosaurus and Diplodocus.

Scotland's dinosaur disco illuminates the habitat and lifestyle of the ancient behemoths, and actually supports a decades-old, and long-ago rejected, theory that sauropods lived in swamps because they couldn't support their own weight on land. Paleontologists have since learned since that the dino's skeleton proves they were well-adapted to land, but this dinosaur disco suggests that they actually did enjoy hanging out in the water.

Scientists imagine that they waded in shallow water in coast areas a lot, but were far from being swimmers and didn't live exclusively in water, Brusatte explained.

"Maybe these lagoons were a ready source of food, or offered protection from predators. But regardless of the answer, this discovery and the other recent ones are inspiring us to re-imagine the lifestyles of these most incredible of ancient creatures."
[Photo by 3dmotus/Shutterstock]