An international team of paleontologists found the world’s smallest stegosaur footprint in China’s Xinjiang province. The tiny footprint, which measured just 5.7 cm in length (2.2 inches), dates back about 110 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Epoch.
The print was made by a Deltapodus curriei and it definitely stood out as it is only 15% the length of other stegosaur prints found in the same area. Dr. Anthony Romilio, who is a paleontologist in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland, detailed this further, “It’s in strong contrast with other stegosaur prints found at the Chinese track site which measured up to 30 cm, and prints found in places like Broome in Western Australia where they can be up to 80 cm,” adding, “With a footprint of less than 6 cm, this is the smallest stegosaur footprint known in the world.”
Although it was significantly smaller than other stegosaur footprints, the tiny one did have some of the same characteristics as the larger ones such as having three short, wide, round toes. On the other hand, the smaller print wasn’t elongated which indicates that it had different behavioral patterns compared to the larger species.
Dr. Romilio explained this further, “Stegosaurs typically walked with their heels on the ground, much like humans do, but on all fours which creates long footprints.” “The tiny track shows that this dinosaur had been moving with its heel lifted off the ground, much like a bird or cat does today.” He went on to say that they have only seen these types of short footprints in dinosaurs that walked on two legs.
Dr. Lida Xing, who is a paleontologist in the State Key Laboratory of Biogeology and Environmental Geology and the School of the Earth Sciences and Resources at the China University of Geosciences, weighed in by noting, “It was plausible young stegosaurs were toe-walkers.” “This could be possible as this is the ancestral condition and a posture of most dinosaurs, but the stegosaur could also have transitioned to heel-walking as it got older.”
In order for the experts to know for sure, they would need to find a complete set of footprints which they haven’t discovered yet as it was only one tiny print.
As for what this little stegosaur would have looked like, it is believed that it would have had bony plates along its back and spikes on its tail just like the armored and herbivorous Stegosaurus. A picture of the footprint and an image of what the Deltapodus curriei would have looked like can be seen here.
The study was published in the journal Palaios where it can be read in full.