University of Bristol

Identifying the Trackmaker

"It is always desirable to match tracks with foot skeletons when undertaking a difficult identification"
(Lockley & Hunt, 1995).

"The only way to demonstrate conclusively that any one species of dinosaur was responsible for a particular type of footprint is to discover the skeleton of the animal preserved at the end of its fossil trackway" (Thulborn, 1990). No dinosaur has been found in such close intimacy with a trackway.

Sometimes it is not possible to suggest a very specific trackmaker. As we have seen, many tracks are badly preserved or undertracks, and can not be easily attributed to any creature more specific than 'a large tetrapod'. Others are distinctive, but may be easily confused with other groups. For example, theropod tracks are often confused with ornithopod tracks. Both groups represent bidpedal dinosaurs, with sizes varying from chicken-size to a Tyrannosaur-size. Any palaeoecological and evolutionary interpretations will depend greatly on which dinosaur group the tracks are attributed to; ornithopods are herbivorous, theropods are carnivorous. Both have quite distinct ancestries, theropods being saurischians and ornithopods being ornithischians.


Photograph contributed by O.Rauhut

However, if we combine the disciplines mentioned throughout this site, such as footprint anatomy, posture, stance, speed, size and palaeoecology and biostratigraphy, we may well be able to suggest a likely trackmaker.


Lockley, M.G. & Hunt, A.P. (1995) Dinosaur Tracks and other fossil footprints of the Western United States.Columbia University Press, New York.

Thulborn, R.A. (1990) Dinosaur Traces. Chapman & Hall, London.



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