identifying ornithopod dinosaur tracks

Ornithopod Dinosaur Tracks

In the same location as where our theropod (carnivore) dinosaur tracks were found, there are also a few ornithopod (herbivore) tracks, but they are rare. There are differences of opinion concerning the type of dinosaur, with some saying it was a dinosaur similar to Scutellosaurus and others saying it was an unknown type of ornithopod. As with many things related to dinosaurs, what we have are mostly assumptions and guesswork. Unless we find a dinosaur that died in its tracks, we cannot know for sure what type of dinosaur made the footprint.

Both Ornithopods and Scutellosaurus sometimes walked on all four legs, but they most often walked on two legs leaving three-toe tracks that are similar to theropod dinosaur tracks.

As with theropod tracks, ornithopod tracks can either be impressed or raised, however that can be difficult to see in a photograph. The image below shows an impressed ornithopod fossil footprint. It was stained in the quarry to make it easier to see the impression.

Ornithopod: More of a Square

Notice that the track is close to being as wide as it is long, much more so than the theropod footprint. The toes on either side are spread wider. Also, the center toe is typically shorter compared with the other toes.

I know I've said this before, but it's important. Keep in mind that with fossil footprints we are looking at impressions made by a living animal in a media (mud in this case) that is highly variable. That means there is a huge variability in tracks. Some tracks made by an ornithopod dinosaur may not have all of the characteristics of an ornithopod dinosaur footprint. To make a positive identification of a footprint outside of a trackway (a series of multiple tracks), we need to find multiple identifying characteristics.

Ornithopod Tracks

Ornithopod: Equal Side Toes & Small Claws

Two other characteristics that help us distinguish an ornithopod track from a theropod track are that the claws are smaller, and the angle of the toes on either side of the foot are about the same such that both toes angle toward the heel.

But what is that pointing from the foot toward the lower left corner of stone? It's a "dew claw" known as a hallux toe on a dinosaur. Both theropod and ornithopod dinosaurs have this toe, but it typically does not leave an impression. Because dinosaurs walk on their toes, as with a dog, the hallux toe rarely contacts the ground.

Ornithopod vs Theropod Footprints

Ornithopod vs Theropod Footprints

Here you see an ornithopod vs theropod footprint side-by-side. If you were tracking a dinosaur in the wild you should now be able to tell the difference.

The ornithopod footprint is wider and the claws are smaller. For theropods, one of the side toes appears to be attached on the side of the foot. And although it does not appear so for this footprint, the center toe for the ornithopod is typically shorter than the theropod center toe.

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