LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have discovered the tracks of a herd of 11 long-necked sauropods walking along a coastal mudflat in what is now the Republic of Yemen, the first discovery of dinosaur footprints on the Arabian peninsula.
Sauropods, the largest land animals in earth’s history, walked on four stout legs and ate plants.
“The nice thing is we finally filled in a bit of a blank spot in the dinosaur map,” said Anne Schulp, a palaeontologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who worked on the study.
“Until 10 years not even bones were known from the Arabian peninsula and at last we have some dinosaur tracks.”
The footprints dating from about 150 million years ago showed the sauropods traveling at the same speed along a river, likely in search of food, Schulp said in a telephone interview.
The creatures roamed the Earth from about 228 million years ago to 65 million years ago, the middle of the age of dinosaurs.
The well-preserved tracks, found about 50 miles north of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, ranged from 43 centimeters to 70 centimeters and suggested strides of about 2.5 meters, Schulp added.
Paleontologists have so far unearthed only a few dinosaur fossils from the Arabian peninsula and possible fragments of a long-necked dinosaur from Yemen.
“The nice thing about tracks is you can tell what these guys were doing,” Schulp said. “You can put some life into the fossils.”
The researchers had first found evidence of a large ornithopod — a two-legged, plant-eating dinosaur — and then discovered the sauropods’ tracks close by.
Schulp and his colleague Mohammed Al-Wosabi of the University of Yemen measured the shape and angle of the different digits in one of the prints to identify the bipedal dinosaur as an ornithopod.
They then used the size, shape and spacing of the other prints to determine body size, travel speed and other distinguishing features of the sauropod herd, they reported in the journal PLoS ONE on Wednesday.
“We really want to learn when did which dinosaurs live, where, and why was that,” Schulp said. “How did the distribution change over time, why did one replace another and move from one place to another?”