A fossil displays a Tyrannosauripus track. Photo: Courtesy of Xing Lida
A tyrannosaurid footprint was found by paleontologists in East China's Jiangxi Province, the first of its kind to be found in Asia.
The discovery is of great significance to fauna distribution research and Late Cretaceous evolution.
The track, found in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, is 58 centimeters long and 47 centimeters wide, and is one of the largest theropod tracks from China, said Xing Lida, a dinosaur footprint expert at Beijing-based China University of Geosciences.
The footprint shows sharp claw marks and steady feet; its toes are well developed, especially the second one with a slight marked inward curvature. Based on the above characteristics, it can be identified as a right footprint cast, the expert said.
A prototype of the Tyrannosaurid, whose footprint was found in East China's Jiangxi Province. Photo: Courtesy of Xing Lida
Xing said the Ganzhou track is different from other large theropod tracks from China, but similar to the well-preserved Tyrannosauripus tracks from New Mexico and to Bellatoripes from British Columbia. The similarity has led Xing to tentatively label the track with Tyrannosauripus.
Xing noted that most dinosaur footprints found in China date back to the Jurassic Period or early-Cretaceous.
"A dinosaur footprint from the late-Cretaceous is very rare, not to mention a Tyrannosauripus, which is at the top of the food chain."
Xing said theropods are at least 7.5 meters long. This is similar to the estimated length of the Qianzhousaurus skeleton which was approximately 7.5 to 9 meters long.
Qianzhousaurus is a type of Tyrannosauripus previously found in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province.
The footprint was located less than 33 kilometers from where the Qianzhousaurus was found, Xing said, noting that because it belongs to the top-level predator, it increases the possibility the track was left by a Qianzhousaurus.
Construction workers accidentally found the footprint. After realizing the track looked similar to dinosaur footprints, they gave the information to Niu Kecheng of the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in Nan'an, Southeast China's Fujian Province.
But Niu lost contact with the construction workers.
Two months later, Xing was informed by another person that the fossil was collected by people in Ganzhou.
"I was ecstatic when I heard the news. After seeing the picture, I knew that the goddess of luck had come to visit me," said Xing.
The findings were published by Xing, Niu, Martin G. Lockley of the University of Colorado and other researchers in Science Bulletin, a multidisciplinary academic journal supervised by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and co-sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
In June, a joint China-US research team announced in Beijing that they had discovered four nearly 100-million-year old fossilized dinosaur footprints in East China's Jiangsu Province.