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Bird tracks discovered that predate the oldest birds by 60 million years

A recently published study reveals fascinating new insights into the history of ancient animals. Researchers Miengah Abrahams and Emese M. Bordy from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, have made a monumental fossil discovery of what seems to be bird tracks. This find indicates that creatures roamed the earth over 210 million years ago on feet resembling those of modern birds.

The Trisauropodiscus footprints

For years, the enigmatic three-toed footprints known as Trisauropodiscus, prevalent in fossil sites across southern Africa, have puzzled scientists. Debates have centered around the type of animals that might have left these distinct tracks and the exact number of ichnospecies (species identified from trace fossils) of Trisauropodiscus.

In their study, Abrahams and Bordy reevaluated the fossil records of these footprints. They scrutinized physical fossil evidence and reviewed previously published materials. Their focus was on Trisauropodiscus tracks from four sites in Lesotho, dating back to the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic Periods.

Detailed analysis at Maphutseng

A significant aspect of their research involved an in-depth field-based examination of footprints at an 80-meter-long tracksite in Maphutseng. Here, they discovered two distinct morphologies among the Trisauropodiscus footprints. The first type bears resemblance to certain non-bird dinosaur tracks, while the second closely matches the size and proportions of bird footprints.

These tracks present a conundrum, as they do not directly correspond to any known fossil animals from this era and region. Intriguingly, the oldest of these footprints, over 210 million years in age, predates the earliest known true bird body fossils by 60 million years.

Theories on the bird track makers

The researchers propose that these tracks could have been created by early dinosaurs, possibly even ancestors of a near-bird lineage. However, they also consider the possibility that other reptiles, related to dinosaurs, might have independently evolved bird-like feet. This discovery pushes back the origin of bird-like feet to at least the Late Triassic Period.

The authors add, “Trisauropodiscus tracks are known from numerous southern African sites dating back to approximately 215 million years ago. The shape of the tracks is consistent with modern and more recent fossil bird tracks, but it is likely a dinosaur with a bird-like foot produced Trisauropodiscus.”

In summary, this mysterious research not only sheds light on the evolutionary history of ancient animals but also opens new avenues for understanding the origins of avian traits in non-avian species. Future research in this area promises to unravel more mysteries of our planet’s distant past.

The full study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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