The Middle Jurassic Period, which expanded from about 75 million years ago to approximately 160 million years ago, was a duration of significant evolutionary change in numerous dinosaur species, but dinosaur fossils from this time are usually uncommon.
Still, new excavations are suggesting that the Isle of Skye could be an alluring exception. New regions of wetlands devastated by powerful storms along the island’s coastline appear to be a treasure chest of fossilized dinosaur footprints.
In a research published in the open-access journal PLOS One, Paige dePolo and Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh detail two recently found fossil sites housing about 50 conserved dinosaur footprints. These comprise the first record on the Isle of Skye of a so-called Deltapodus track, probably created by a stegosaurian or plate-backed dinosaur.
“These new track sites help us get a better sense of the variety of dinosaurs that lived near the coast of Skye during the Middle Jurassic than what we can glean from the island’s body fossil record,” said the research’s lead author dePolo. “In particular, Deltapodus tracks give good evidence that stegosaurs lived on Skye at this time.”
Possibly the Oldest Evidence of Herbivorous Dinosaurs
In addition to the tracks, the researchers found three-toed footprints of various sizes of early carnivorous dinosaurs and a few other large tracks that have been hesitantly as being some of the oldest proof of large-bodied herbivorous dinosaurs.
“These new track sites give us a much clearer picture of the dinosaurs that lived in Scotland 170 million years ago,” said Brusatte, the paper’s co-author. “We knew there were giant long-necked sauropods and jeep-sized carnivores, but we can now add plate-backed stegosaurs to that roster, and maybe even primitive cousins of the duck-billed dinosaurs too. These discoveries are making Skye one of the best places in the world for understanding dinosaur evolution in the Middle Jurassic.”
These two locations add to the known variety of what was a developing ecosystem of Middle Jurassic dinosaurs in the northern Scotland and show the significance of footprints as a source of additional detail to body fossils, the scientists stated.