The Unexplained: The Case of the Missing Dinosaur Legs
December 17, 2021
The more scientists looked at these odd, round dinosaur tracks, the more puzzled they became. The prints were only of the front feet—a truly quirky enigma.
There are some amazing dinosaur tracks in Texas. Some of the most famous are near Granbury, at Glen Rose. They have been studied by paleontologists and were actually from footprints made in the Cretaceous period over 110 million years ago. The ones we see pictures of most often have three visible toes and are big enough to bathe a Golden Retriever if filled with water.
Studies conducted on the three-toed wonders in 2007 by scientists from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the University of Purdue were so intense that they almost missed something very juicy. It was staring them in their faces at the Glen Rose Coffee Hollow section of the site.
There were some odd-looking round indentations that were 27” across and 27’ up and down—almost circles. These could also be tracks—but if they were made by dinosaurs, they would have to be made by those huge creatures that had bulky cylindrical legs to support their massive bodies—the sauropods, largest animals to ever walk the earth: i.e., Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Diplodocus. These were hulks that needed powerful legs for support and they had lumbering gaits that gave them the nickname, Thunder Lizards.
The more scientists looked at these odd, round prints, the more puzzled they became. The prints were only of the front feet—a truly quirky enigma. Were the Thunder Lizards doing handstands? There was a big mystery to figure out and it has never been figured out completely and definitely.
The researchers at Coffee Hollow were not alone in their confusion. A few years earlier, in Bandera, Texas, a researcher was called to a ranch. Roland T. Bird identified the tracks called to his attention as those of a sauropod. The tracks were only made by the manus—the front legs. There were no pes prints, those made by the rear legs.
Bird finally came up with a theory. Although sauropods were not aquatic animals, they may have had occasion to wade through deep water. Maybe they spotted a tasty and tempting type of foliage on the other side of a body of water. Maybe they spied a potential mate and there was no efficient way around the water.
The sauropod may have ventured into the shoulder-high water and bounced along on the bottom with front legs, while the rear legs floated, or possibly the rear legs came down just long enough to give a quick shove and did not leave a remaining impression. In fact, in a letter Bird wrote to a colleague, he called it barely kicking bottom.
Bird’s theory was accepted as gospel for a while, but over a few years’ time began to be dismissed as not probable.
A more complex theory was offered up by different and more current scientists. They deduced that the ground surface at the time was of such a consistency that only the heaviest legs would leave a print. The surface was of such an unusual type that it would only accept the front prints made by the heavier front legs and would not accept the prints made by the lighter rear legs.
As opinions and theories will flip flop, the hopping through the water has gained more favor again as the cause of the front-foot-only prints. This was considered as the most likely possibility for the Coffee Hollow studies done in 2019.
As one who follows the activity of hippopotami on social media, I am partial to the water theory. Here big, bulky, hippopotami, that don’t actually swim display this type of deepwater propulsion on a daily basis. It is entertaining to watch for some of us.
For all practical purposes, front-foot-only sauropod prints are still an unexplained mystery.
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