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Canadian study of Tyrannosaurus rex tracks may put U.S. dino museum on the map

Tyrannosaurus rex tracks
The Allosaurus display at the Glenrock Paleon Museum in Wyoming.

A University of Alberta paleontology student is working hard to put a small Glenrock, Wyoming, paleontology museum on the map, dino-logically speaking. PhD candidate Scott Persons recently helped the museum publish an article in the peer reviewed journal Cretaceous Research that describes a set of three Tyrannosaurus rex tracks found close by the Glenrock Paleon Museum.

As a 13 year-old dinosaur-infatuated kid, Persons visited the Glenrock Museum and was awestruck by the tracks when shown them by past and present museum curator, Sean Smith.

“Sean led me out to a sandstone slope and started brushing away at an indented spot. At first, it looked like a prehistoric pothole,” says Persons, “But soon I could see the imprints of three big toes each with sharp claw tips. It was so cool my jaw dropped.”

The Glenrock Paleon Museum is a working museum which aside from its displays of fossils also provides a dig school for regular folks to get out in the field and experience what it’s like to do paleontology work.

Persons’ journey had led him from his home in Carolina to Wyoming and then, years later, to Edmonton, where he is now in the midst of completing his graduate work. Persons says that based on the size of the footprints and the age of the rock in which the tracks are found, the animal was likely a species of tyrannosaur – possibly an adolescent Tyrannosaurus rex or a full grown Nanotyrannus, a smaller cousin of the T. rex.

The set of three tyrannosaur tracks follow a left-right-left pattern and are in fact a rare find, being only the second multi-step tyrannosaur track site so far identified in the world.

“They are just such beautiful tracks,” says Persons, “The one track you can see the footprints and actually make out the individual fleshy pads that make up the toes.”

But for sheer quantity of fossilized footprints of tyrannosaurus, no place on Earth beats Tumbler Ridge, B.C., where just last year the ninth tyranno track was identified inside the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark.

UBC student Carina Helm was out on a walk with her father when she spotted an exposed slab of rock bearing the distinctive marks of a three-toed footprint. “It’s exciting to be able to contribute to science and the Geopark in this way,” said Helm.

In other recent dino news, this past week saw the unveiling of one of the so-called Titanosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This is the largest sauropod – and the largest land animal – ever discovered. Remarkably, a total of seven of them all emerged from the same area of Argentina’s Patagonian desert in 2014. This particular beast that just landed in NYC is 122 feet long, stands 20 feet tall and likely weighed in at 70 tonnes (that’s 10 African elephants to us laypersons).

Titanosaur is only a tag name at this point, since an official species name has yet to be determined. But my theory is that when you’re that big, you can call yourself whatever you want.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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