Dinosaurs were good swimmers, or at least they were halfway decent dog paddlers. An international team of researchers including Canada’s University of Alberta Scott Persons has been taking a closer look at the footprints found on the bottom of what was once a waterway in Szechuan, China.
A trackway is a place where dinosaurs once walked, leaving their tracks behind as fossils in the stone. Many Americans might know them best from the famous Dinosaur Ridge area in Morrison, Colorado, where a short hike along a trail leads you to plenty of old dinosaur tracks of different species forever trapped in stone.
The Dinosaur Ridge footprints are Jurassic, but the Szechuan trackway is from a more modern era of dinosaurs, the Cretaceous. It’s a roughly 100 million year old river bed that Persons described as a “dinosaur super-trackway.”
The scientists can easily identify the heavy, four-footed, long-necked vegetarians like the classic Apatosaurus — the iconic dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus. The big guys with the profile roughly like the green gas station Sinclair dinosaur logo have a nice heavy tread and an easy-to-identify footprint.
However, Persons also noticed something strange — some claw marks that looked almost like scratches. After some study, he concluded that that the fossil marks came from a two-legged dinosaur’s feet, potentially even an early tyrannosaur species or another dangerous predator.
“The dinosaur’s claw marks show it was swimming along in this river and just its tippy toes were touching bottom,” he explained.
He interpreted this clue to mean that the predatory dinosaur in question was a strong swimmer, which is certainly a reasonable argument. The swimming predator might be letting its toes drag in the mud, but to be able to stay afloat at all is pretty impressive for an animal that potentially weighs several tons.
However, I have to admit that the picture of a T. rex splashing along its merry way with its toes dragging makes my non-scientific silly side picture the beast as a dog-paddling cheater, rather than a gifted Olympics-style professional swimmer.
Either way, it’s fun to imagine swimming dinosaurs.
Can we look forward to a Jurassic Park mashup with Jaws? Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the beach … the dinosaurs start boiling up out of the water.
[dinosaur footprint photo by Greg Willis and Wikipedia Commons]