A researcher lies next to the largest dinosaur footprint ever discovered (which is outlined in this photo).
Damian Kelly
Jim McMahon
Sauropods used their long necks to reach leaves high in the treetops.
JOE TUCCIARONE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images
This dinosaur footprint was found in rock formations in Australia.
Damian Kelly
Prints From the Past
Scientists find the world’s largest dinosaur footprint in Australia.

By Joe Bubar

Scientists in Australia recently got a chance to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs. In March, they announced that they’d identified thousands of dinosaur tracks along a 15-mile stretch of Australia’s northwest coast. One of the footprints is the largest dinosaur footprint ever recorded.

The footprint is about 5 feet 9 inches long—large enough for most people to lie inside it. The print was likely left behind about 130 million years ago by a type of dinosaur called a sauropod. These long-necked herbivores (animals that only eat plants) were the largest known dinosaurs, with the biggest ones measuring about 130 feet long.

A BIG DISCOVERY

That giant footprint wasn’t the only amazing discovery in the area. In total, the scientists identified the footprints of 21 different dinosaur species. That includes the first evidence of a stegosaur—a type of dinosaur with spiky plates along its back—in Australia. It’s the most diverse group of dino prints ever found in one place.

“It really is a snapshot of life during the age of the dinosaurs in this particular area,” says Steve Salisbury. He is a paleontologist (a scientist who studies fossils) at the University of Queensland in Australia.

ON THE TRAIL

The dinosaurs originally left their footprints in sand. Over time, these prints were filled with other types of sand and small pebbles. The tracks eventually fossilized, or hardened into rock. To figure out which types of dinosaurs had left them, scientists studied the size of the footprints and the patterns in which they were made.

The scientists worked with a group of Aborigines (ab-uhr-IHJ-ih-neez), or Australian natives. The Aborigines had known about the tracks for years, but they didn’t share their secret with the paleontologists until 2008. The scientists and the Aborigines created a digital map of the area and made molds of some of the tracks. These can later be used to make replicas (exact copies) of the footprints for museums.

Officials plan to open parts of the area to the public to give visitors a chance to walk among the dinosaur prints too. “With tracks, you really feel like you’re seeing where one of these fantastic animals actually was millions of years ago,” says Salisbury.

This article will appear in the May 15, 2017, issue of Scholastic News, Edition 5/6.