When we think of the dinosaur age, most of us think about gigantic creatures that would’ve towered over modern humans. Not all of the dinosaurs around millions of years ago were gigantic creatures. Recently, an international team of paleontologists discovered a single footprint left by a dinosaur the size of a cat. The dinosaur roamed the Earth about 100 million years ago, and the footprint was discovered in China.
The footprint was made by a plant-eating armor dinosaur belonging to the broad family of stegosaur, the same family as the Stegosaurus dinosaur. Researchers believe that the tiny dinosaur likely had spikes on its tail and bony plates along its back as an adult, just as the Stegosaurus does.
The footprint is less than six centimeters across, making it the smallest stegosaur footprint known in the entire world. The six-centimeter footprint is vastly smaller than some of the other stegosaur footprints discovered at the same site, measuring up to 30 centimeters. Other stegosaur footprints found around the world can measure up to 80 centimeters.
While much smaller, the tiny footprint has similar characteristics compared to other stegosaur footprints with three short, wide, and round toe impressions. Researchers found that the small footprint wasn’t elongated like larger counterparts discovered at other sites suggesting the young stegosaur had different behavior. While Stegosaurus typically walk on their heels on the ground in a fashion similar to humans, the small track shows that the dinosaur was moving with its heel lifted off the ground like a bird or cat does today.
The researchers believe that young stegosaurs were likely toe-walkers and transitioned to heel-walking as they aged. Researchers say that a complete set of tracks could help them answer that question, but unfortunately, they have only one.