Dinosaur Tracks and Trackways

The giveaway markings that tell us huge amounts about the dinosaur kingdom.

Bipedal and predatory habits
Flexible clay soils
Dinosaur ichnology
Complexity of preservation conditions
Herding or migration
They might have hunted in packs
Swimming tracks

Types of Tracks

Fossilized dinosaur tracks, or ichnites, are invaluable trace fossils that offer a glimpse into the lives of these ancient creatures. By studying these footprints, paleontologists can uncover details about dinosaur behavior, locomotion, anatomy, ecology, chronology, and distribution.

Theropod tracks reveal their bipedal nature and predatory habits. For instance, the three-toed footprints of Velociraptors suggest swift movement and agile hunting strategies. Ornithopod prints point to their herbivorous lifestyle with wide feet adapted for long sessions grazing on vegetation.


Sauropods left massive footprints due to their colossal size and quadrupedal stance. These imprints indicate slow-moving giants like Brachiosaurus lumbering through prehistoric landscapes in search of food sources. Fossilized footprints can even give us indications about how herds moved – for example, trackways indicate that young dinosaurs were kept in the middle of the herd, presumably for protection.

Track Preservation

Track preservation plays a crucial role in understanding the lives of dinosaurs through their footprints. Conditions had to be right for footprints to be preserved in the first place. If the ground was too hard, the footprints would not form. On the other hand, if the ground was too soft, any footprints that did form would quickly collapse and erode. Flexible clay soils, often found near rivers, provide an ideal medium for preserving these ancient imprints.

For instance, the well-preserved tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas showcase various species’ movements along the muddy shore of an ancient ocean. These fossils can be preserved as real footprints, countermolds which filled with sediment to reflect the original imprint or subfootprints revealing deeper layers of sediment.

However, conserving these invaluable traces requires careful attention to prevent damage from erosion, human activity and climate change. Non-invasive techniques such as 3D scanning and digital modeling help preserve delicate trackways without disturbing them physically.


Preserved dinosaur tracks offer a unique window into prehistoric behavior and ecology. Conservation efforts are vital to protect these fragile remnants of our planet’s history.

Studying Tracks

Dinosaur ichnology, the study of prehistoric footprints, offers a wealth of information about these ancient creatures. Fossilized tracks are relatively abundant compared to other fossils, providing paleontologists with valuable insights into dinosaur behavior and ecology.

For example, numerous well-preserved trackways at sites like Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas reveal diverse species coexisting next to an ancient ocean. Many of the footprints are elephantine tracks left by massive sauropods such as Sauroposeidon proteles and smaller theropod tracks possibly left by Acrocanthosaurus. The abundance of such prints is due to factors like rapid sedimentation and favorable preservation conditions that protect them from erosion or scavenging.

Paleontologists employ various methods to study these tracks, including making casts using plaster or silicone rubber for detailed examination. Measurements of stride length and footprint depth can help determine locomotion patterns and body size estimates.

Advanced technologies also play a crucial role in modern ichnology; computer modeling allows scientists to reconstruct movement dynamics while 3D scanning preserves delicate trackways without physical disturbance. These techniques enable researchers to delve deeper into the lives of dinosaurs through their preserved footprints.


Track Interpretation

Track interpretation unveils the hidden stories of dinosaur lives, from identifying distinct footprints to deciphering behavioral patterns. Distinguishing features such as size and shape help differentiate tracks made by theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods. Interpreting dinosaur tracks is no easy task – in fact Pliny Moody’s 1802 discovery of the first dinosaur tracks was initially misidentified as belonging to ‘Noah’s Raven.’


Trackways offer insights into dinosaur behavior like speed, gait, herding or mating habits. For example, the rarity of tail drag fossils alongside footprint fossils suggests that dinosaurs typically held their tails up, rather than dragging them along the ground as reptiles like crocodiles do now. However, pinpointing specific species from footprints remains challenging. Termination trackways are a rare find where fossilized bones accompany corresponding prints, allowing easier identification of the tracks. Such trackways are extremely rare. Their scarcity is in part due to the complexity of preservation conditions required to form fossils. These often differ between trace fossils and skeletal remains.

Track Sites

Track sites, unique repositories of dinosaur footprints, vary in origin from sedimentary rocks to volcanic ash and mudflats. Favorable preservation conditions are crucial for maintaining these invaluable records.

Scientists interpret tracks and trackways to uncover dinosaur behavior, locomotion, and ecology. Footprints, tail drags, and swim traces divulge details about the animals’ size, speed, and gait.

Famous track sites like Texas’s Paluxy River tracks offer glimpses into prehistoric life. Tanzania’s Laetoli footprints reveal early hominid bipedalism while Australia’s Dinosaur Cove tracks showcase diverse species interactions. These significant sites enrich our understanding of dinosaur evolution and behavior.


Herbivore Tracks

Herbivore tracks provide a window into the lives of plant-eating dinosaurs, such as sauropods, ornithopods, and ceratopsians. Identifying these tracks involves examining size, shape, and distinctive features like toe impressions or claw marks. For instance, sauropod footprints often display large circular shapes with a smaller crescent-shaped print nearby. The wide circular prints were probably footprints and the smaller crescent shaped prints were probably handprints — showing specialisation in the limbs of these dinosaurs despite the fact that they were quadrapedal (used all four feet to walk). Sauropod footprints can be enormous — some found in Australia measured 1.7m long.

Interpreting herbivore tracks reveals insights into their behavior and movement. Scientists analyze trackways to reconstruct gait patterns and estimate speed; for example, widely spaced ornithopod prints suggest slow browsing while closer spacing indicates faster travel. Additionally, parallel trackways may indicate social behaviors like herding or migration.


Preservation and discovery of herbivore tracks depend on factors such as sediment type and environmental conditions. Tracks are typically preserved in sedimentary rocks like sandstone or mudstone layers near ancient water sources.

Carnivore Tracks

Carnivore tracks, etched in ancient mud and stone, offer glimpses into the predatory lives of dinosaurs like theropods. Differing from herbivore prints, carnivore tracks often display three-toed imprints with sharp claw marks, reflecting their hunting adaptations. Theropod tracks also tend to reflect their bipedal habits, as these animals stalked their prey on two legs.

For instance, Tyrannosaurus rex left massive footprints up to 86 cm long. These traces have been unearthed globally, from North America to Asia. Each discovery unveils clues about dinosaur behavior and ecology. A trackway found in China shows 6 Deinonychus individuals moving together and could indicate that these animals hunted in packs. At another site in North America, footprints of small, medium, and large tyrannosaurs can be seen moving together. They move in a straight line before abruptly changing course. A round footprint of another dinosaur was found where the tracks suddenly veer off — could this be a snapshot of a family of meat eating dinosaurs hunting a herbivore together?

Scientists scrutinize trackways for patterns that reveal gait or stalking techniques used by these predators. However, limitations exist; bones and teeth provide essential complementary data for a comprehensive understanding of these magnificent creatures’ lives.

Swimming Tracks

Swimming tracks, a fascinating subset of trace fossils, reveal the aquatic prowess of prehistoric creatures. Unlike walking or running imprints, these traces display unique patterns formed by limbs interacting with water and sediment. For instance, plesiosaurs left sweeping arcs from their flippers’ motion; ichthyosaurs created undulating grooves as they swam.


Fossil records showcase diverse swimming tracks: crocodile trails exhibit claw marks and tail drags while dinosaur swim traces hint at dog-paddle-like movements. These underwater signatures divulge preferred habitats and behaviors — plesiosaurs likely frequented shallow waters near coastlines whereas ichthyosaurs roamed deeper seas. Ultimately, swimming tracks illuminate ancient ecosystems teeming with life beneath the waves, enriching our understanding of Earth’s prehistoric inhabitants.

Migration Patterns

Dinosaur migration patterns, including seasonal, altitudinal, and latitudinal movements, reveal insights into their adaptive behaviors. These migrations were driven by factors such as climate shifts, food availability, and breeding habits.

For instance, some herbivorous dinosaurs such as the duck-billed Edmontosaurus might have migrated to lower latitudes during colder months for access to the vegetation they needed to survive. Similarly, the earliest dinosaurs appear to have originated in South America, but migrated North over time as the climate shifted.

Trackway analysis helps decipher these patterns by examining track size and shape or spacing between footprints. Scientists then reconstruct possible migration routes based on this data.


Fossil evidence supports dinosaur migration theories through discoveries of large herds in specific areas or tracks found across vast distances. Additionally, fossils of the same species unearthed in different regions suggest widespread movement. However, interpreting this evidence presents challenges due to preservation limitations and incomplete fossil records.

Modern techniques and modern comparisons

Advanced modern techniques play a crucial role in deciphering the mysteries of dinosaur tracks and trackways. By employing cutting-edge technology, such as 3D scanning and computer modeling, paleontologists can analyze these ancient imprints with unprecedented precision.

For example, researchers have used laser scanners to create detailed digital models of dinosaur footprints found in Scotland. These models allow for accurate measurements and comparisons between different tracks, shedding light on the animals’ locomotion patterns. Similarly, comparing dinosaur tracks with those of modern birds and reptiles helps scientists understand how these prehistoric creatures moved and behaved.


In one study, experts compared theropod tracks to those of ratite birds such as emus to determine similarities in gait patterns. This approach has proven invaluable for interpreting trackways by identifying distinct types of prints and estimating the speed at which dinosaurs traveled. Modern comparisons serve as essential tools for reconstructing the lives of Earth’s long-extinct inhabitants.

You will forget 90% of this article in 7 days.

Download Kinnu to have fun learning, broaden your horizons, and remember what you read. Forever.

You might also like

Introduction to Dinosaurs;

The prehistoric beasts that once ruled the earth.

Dinosaur Growth and Development;

The developmental processes that defined the life of dinosaur.

Dinosaur Eggs and Nests;

How dinosaurs cultivated their eggs.

Dinosaur Skin and Feathers;

The protective layers of dinosaur anatomy.

Dinosaur Locomotion;

How dinosaurs got from A to B.

Dinosaur Senses;

How dinosaurs touched, tasted, and smelled their way around the prehistoric world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *