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AP: Footprints Reveal Dinosaur Life



Another look at the way the popular press takes a
crack at all this dinosaur business.  Posted for
fair-use discussion purposes only.



Footprints Reveal Dinosaur Life
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Filed at 4:39 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Plant-eating dinosaurs of different
species may have herded together, to escape
meat-eaters nearby, according to an analysis of
163-million-year-old dino footprints on a muddy
coastal plain in England.

In a study appearing Friday in the journal Science,
British researchers say that 40 tracks of dinosaur
footprints hint at a life and death struggle between
prey and hunter in the days when dinosaurs ruled the
world.

The tracks suggest that large and lumbering plant
eaters of different types -- some as long as 90 feet
and weighing 10 tons or more -- walked together across
an open tidal plain, perhaps fleeing for their lives.
These animals were all sauropods, but of different
types.

On a nearby track, the researchers also found the
footprints of the smaller, faster meglosaurus, a
toothy meat eater that may have been more than 60 feet
long. The tracks were going the same direction at
about the same time as the sauropods. The meglosaurus
was a theropod, the same family as Tyrannosaurus rex,
a heavyweight carnivore that developed millions of
years later.

``The theropods there suggests that they were tracking
the sauropods,'' said Julia Day, a paleontologist at
the University of Cambridge, England, and first author
of the Science study.

Day said the tracks of the sauropods show they were
miles from the nearest heavy growth of plants, which
was unusual because it is believed the huge
vegetarians required food almost constantly.

``Sauropods have to keep eating and yet they were far
away from any vegetation,'' said Day. ``We believe the
animals were either migrating or walked out there to
get away from the predators.''

The sauropods moved slowly, spread out and walking in
the same direction, with each animal leaving a several
set of footprints.

In one track, there are the small, shorter footfalls
of a juvenile walking beside a much larger sauropod,
Day said. This suggests a parent and child traveling
together across that ancient muddy plain.

Day said that the herding of plant-eaters from
different species is not unusual. In modern times in
Africa, zebra and wildebeest commonly move together
over the grasslands and across the rivers of Tanzania
and Kenya.

``This is the first evidence of a multi-specie herd of
dinosaurs moving together,'' she said. ``If they were
migrating, they may have been going to a new food
source and to a nesting ground.''

The plain where the animals moved was covered with a
clay soil which baked hard in the sun and eventually
turned to limestone, preserving the footprints. Day
said the prints had to be made at approximately the
same time because the area was daily covered with
ocean tides.

The types and sizes of the animals could be identified
by the shape, width and depth of the footprints, she
said.



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