Long-necked monsters roamed more than Scotland’s lochs

Fossil footprints put scientists on sauropods’ trail

sauropod tracks and cast

Tracks made by sauropods some 170 million years ago crisscross a swath of land in Scotland (left); a sediment cast of one track (right) stretched longer than 35 centimeters (lens cap is 5 centimeters wide).

Steve Brusatte

Step aside, Loch Ness monster. Long-necked behemoths once roamed Scotland in real life.

Brontosaurus’ early relatives stomped through Scottish lagoons some 170 million years ago, suggest a newly-discovered collection of colossal fossil footprints.

The prints, stamped into ancient layers of stone like shallow potholes, stretch up to 70 centimeters wide — about the diameter of a car tire, scientists report December 1 in the Scottish Journal of Geology. Impressions of digits and fleshy foot pads and the sheer size of the prints suggest they belong to sauropods, plant-eating dinos with tree-trunk legs and skyscraping heads perched atop pilllarlike necks.

Until now, the scrappy fossil record of these Middle Jurassic dinosaurs consisted of only a few bones and teeth. The new find places generations of sauropods on an island of Scotland that once held ancient lagoons, which the gigantic creatures may have used to cool off, the study’s authors suggest.  

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

More Stories from Science News on Paleontology