Hami’s “pterosaur Eden” found fossilized dinosaur footprints for the first time

Hami is the world’s largest and richest source of pterosaur fossils, where hundreds of millions of pterosaurs once thrived, making it a veritable “pterosaur Eden”. Recently, Wang Xiaolin, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, cooperated with Shenyang Normal University and Hami Museum to publish research results on the fossilized theropod footprints of Hami pterosaur fauna in the international academic journal “Historical Biology”. This is also the first time that Cretaceous dinosaur footprints have been found in the Hami and Tuha basins, increasing the diversity of Hami pterosaur fauna.

As an important type of fossil remains, the importance of footprint fossils lies in the fact that they can obtain some information on paleontological ecological habits that bone fossils cannot provide. In recent years, the Hami expedition led by Wang Xiaolin has successively found some theropod footprint fossils, which come from the Tugulu Group of the Lower Cretaceous Tugulu Qun Sheng Jinkou Formation in the Hami Gobi Yadan area of the Tuha Basin, about 1.3-120 million years ago. In addition to theropod footprint fossils, the expedition also found fossil groups of footprints including sauropods, pterosaurs, birds and turtles and turtles.


Well-preserved fossilized theropod footprints: A pseudocolor depth map; B specimen photograph; C line map. Photo courtesy of Wang Xiaolin’s team


Hami theropod footprints and line drawings. Photo courtesy of Wang Xiaolin’s team

The theropod footprint fossils studied in this study consisted of 3 specimens and 9 footprint fossils from different strata at two sites (Figure 1). Through the detailed description and comparative analysis of the morphological characteristics of the footprint fossils, the researchers found that the Hami theropod footprints were narrow and long, with an average length of about 16cm, bipedal walking, functional three-toed, and clear sharp claw tracks can be seen at the distal end of the toe, which are small theropod footprints.

Compared with the main features of Hami theropod footprints, researchers believe that they are very similar to the main features of the genus of Throcerosaurus footprints with larger size, but the size of Hami theropod footprint fossils is significantly smaller. Since in recent years, small-sized tracks have been found more and more around the world, such as footprints from Beijing, Sichuan, Hebei and Shaanxi in China, as well as in the Lower Cretaceous strata of Britain and Japan, they are all classified as similar genera of Cynosaurus footprints, so Hami theropod footprints are also included in it. This discovery further expands the distribution of this type of footprint, and also provides a footprintological basis for information such as theropod height and length in the Hami pterosaur fauna. (Source: Hu Minqi, China Science News)

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