Dinosaur Tracks Discovered in China. Did Prehistoric Predators Travel in Groups?

A model of a dinosaur skeleton is seen during a dinosaur exhibition, in front of a residential complex in Kunming, Yunnan province. China has yielded significant dinosaur fossils, including dinosaur tracks. REUTERS/Wong Campion

Scientists have discovered an area filled with more than 300 fossil footprints of dinosaurs that lived during the Lower Cretaceous period. With footprints from long-necked sauropods and bird-like theropods, this may be the most diverse area of dinosaur tracks ever discovered.

"The discovery of the dinosaur footprints was shocking, as no dinosaur skeletons have been found in this area before," Wang Xiaoli, head of the Institute of Geology and Paleontology at Linyi University, Shandong Province told Chinese news website ECNS.

This area, in the low altitude of a mountain, hasn't yielded any body fossils like teeth or bones, so until now, there was no evidence that dinosaurs even lived there. However, by comparing the tracks to the closest skeletal fossils of dinosaurs discovered in China from the same era, researchers can get a decent idea of what animals roamed Maling Mountain where the tracks were found.

Two of those sets of tracks include sauropodomorphs, or long-necked dinosaurs, and two ornithopods, which are of the dinosaur clade that includes duck-billed dinosaurs. There were even tracks from an unidentified turtle.

The area also included four parallel sets of tracks of deinonychosaurians, or some type of dinosaur related to Jurassic Park's velociraptors. The fact that the four sets of tracks were parallel was significant: It may support the theory that bird-like predatory dinosaurs from 120 million years ago traveled in groups. There were also 70 sets of parallel tracks of a smaller species of theropod dinosaurs.

Explorers found the tracks in 2016, but it was only recently that scientists have put together their analysis of the fossils. Scientists from China, the United States, and Australia came together to write a study on the find and published their results in the journal Cretaceous Research.

These footprints give scientists a considerably better idea of what the ecosystem looked like in the Lower Cretaceous period, and help biologists to understand dinosaur behavior a little better