In 1998, a research expedition into the Black Hills mountain range in Wyoming — which included Anthony Maltese, now the curator of the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado — excavated an enormous dinosaur foot fossil, a left hindfoot some 150-million-years-old dating back to the Late Cretaceous.
Now, 20 years after the discovery, Maltese has published a study identifying the fossil and describing it as the largest sauropod foot on record, Phys.org reports.
Dubbed “the real Bigfoot” by the study authors, the immense foot fossil measures nearly 3.2 feet (1 meter) in length and likely belonged to a behemoth closely related to the famous Brachiosaurus — a megaherbivore from a class of giant sauropods and one of the largest creatures to ever walk the Earth, the Inquisitr recently reported.
“This is the largest pes ever reported from a sauropod dinosaur and represents the first confirmed pedal brachiosaur elements from the Late Jurassic of North America,” details the paper, published today in the journal PeerJ.
According to Gizmodo, this remarkable fossil is almost complete and is comprised of 13 bones. The sauropod foot fossil was discovered in the Morrison Formation — a rocky deposit that has yielded a wealth of Late Cretaceous fossils in the past, including the rare dinosaur skeleton sold for more than $2 million at a Paris auction in early June, the Inquisitr reported at the time.
While the scientists can’t be sure exactly what dinosaur species left behind the giant foot fossil, the sauropod origin of the specimen was identified with the help of a 3D scanning technique, notes Live Science.
This method allowed the team to measure the foot fossil with increased precision so that it could be compared with other sauropod foot bones in the fossil record.
“It very likely is a type of brachiosaur, the kind that got famous in Jurassic Park (and then got horribly murdered in Fallen Kingdom),” said study co-author Femke Holwerda, a paleontologist at the Bavarian State Collection of Paleontology and Geology.
Another noteworthy detail about the foot fossil is that it was found buried underneath the tail bones of another giant sauropod known as a Camarasaurus dinosaur, along with the remains of “several individuals of various ages and from at least three different species,” study co-author Emanuel Tschopp said in a statement.
“This foot definitely belonged to the largest individual preserved in this quarry, but unfortunately, nothing else of it was found,” revealed Tschopp, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
This unknown beast was 80 feet long (more than 24 meters) and stood 13 feet (4 meters) tall at the hip.
Even though the researchers can’t pinpoint the exact sauropod species, the study makes note that “it does represent a dinosaur of enormous proportions,” with metatarsals “considerably larger than those of Dreadnoughtus, which was reported to be one of the largest sauropods ever found.”
Yet, although this mystery brachiosaur did produce the largest foot fossil ever discovered, this doesn’t mean it was also the largest dinosaur to ever roam the planet. That record belongs to other Mesozoic Era giants, such as the 122-foot-long (37 meters) Patagotitan and the 115-foot-long (35 meters) Argentinosaurus, whose partial skeletal remains were uncovered in Australia and Argentina.
These two megaherbivores, also known as titanosaurs, had femur lengths of 8.3 feet (2.5 meters) and 7.7 feet (2.3 meters), whereas the estimated femur length for the newly-discovered dinosaur is 6.7 feet (2 meters). But none of the titanosaurs in the fossil record has any preserved feet, notes Tschopp, who points out that the mystery brachiosaur “was clearly one of the biggest that ever walked in North America.”
Another big revelation made by the research team was that brachiosaurs and their close relatives had a much wider habitat than previously believed, holding dominion over a huge area from eastern Utah to northwestern Wyoming.
“This is surprising,” stated Tschopp. “Many other sauropod dinosaurs seem to have inhabited smaller areas during that time.”