The severe drought in Texas has revealed previously undiscovered dinosaur tracks, additional signs that the huge animals lived and hunted in the north-central part of the state.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, which opened 50 years ago, is home to perhaps hundreds of tracks from various dinosaurs and prehistoric animals as far back as 113 million years ago. Now the Paluxy River has receded into the park to reveal new sets of tracks.
This new one, said park ranger Jeff Davis, “either they haven’t been seen in decades, or you know, who may have never been seen in anyone’s living memory. So that’s what makes it so special, what’s going on right now .”
The area where the dinosaur tracks were revealed has historically been underwater and may have been hidden by sandbars or rocky cover near the river, which is a tributary of the Brazos River.
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The tracks found include a series made by a dinosaur with tracks often found in the park: an acrocanthosaurus, a theropod (dinosaur that walked on two legs), and a similarly sized predator – 20 feet long or more and weighing as much as 7 tons – to the Tyrannosaurus. “They’re a lot older than T. Rex and have a slightly different body shape, but overall the same idea,” David said. “They have a big three-toed spur that’s very clear.”
Other tracks were likely made by the Sauroposeidon proteles, a herbivorous dinosaur that can measure 60 to 70 feet in length and weigh more than 40 tons — the sauropod tracks have also been found in the park before. It would “leave footprints over a meter long, with smaller, clawless horseshoe-shaped footprints in the front,” according to the park’s website.
Acrocanthosaurus probably hunted the leaf-eating sauropods. “Like modern predators, they probably would have attacked younger, smaller, old, sick or injured individuals,” Davis said.
In addition to the Acrocanthosaurus tracks, “there are many, many other tracks made by multiple species of dinosaurs,” he said. Experts continue to assess the tracks.
If we look back about 130 million years ago, the area was on the shallows of a huge inland sea that separated the continent. “These dinosaurs walked in this thick, gooey mud along the edge of the sea, and then that was all covered in silt and sediment and eventually turned into limestone and then preserved,” Davis said.
The river eventually cut through the land, exposing the tracks. “So the river is so good that new tracks are being exposed, but at the same time, tracks that are exposed over time are being eroded,” he said.
“That river is persistent. It has all the time in the world to wear those tracks away,” Davis said. “So it’s all a matter of time.”
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