Maybe 'Bigfoot' Was a Dinosaur—Paleontologists Find Largest Foot Fossil Ever Discovered

Footprints belonging to long-neck dinosaurs are visible in a quarry in Muenchehagen, Germany, on August 20, 2015. Researchers found the largest dinosaur foot ever discovered, announced in a paper published on Tuesday. Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Paleontologists have discovered "Bigfoot." Not the mythical creature that roams the forest but a collection of fossils that make up the largest dinosaur foot ever found.

"It was immediately apparent that the foot, nearly a meter wide, was from an extremely large animal, so the specimen was nicknamed Bigfoot," Anthony Maltese, lead author of research on the fossils, said in a statement.

The study found that the fossils excavated in Wyoming are from a brachiosaur, a type of sauropod dinosaur that was among the biggest land animals on Earth. The findings, published on Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, also confirm that 150 million years ago brachiosaurs roamed throughout a huge swath of North America.

A Brachiosaurus eats from an Araucaria tree in this illustration. These dinosaurs had enormous necks and relatively short tails. Researchers identified a Brachiosaurus foot on Tuesday as the largest dinosaur foot ever unearthed. Davide Bonadonna, Milan, Italy

"There are tracks and other incomplete skeletons from Australia and Argentina that seem to be from even bigger animals, but those gigantic skeletons were found without the feet. This beast was clearly one of the biggest that ever walked in North America," co-author Emanuel Tschopp of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Paleontology, said in a statement.

The dinosaur foot was excavated in 1998 by an expedition team from the University of Kansas that included Maltese, now at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado.

Now, after a thorough examination, the researchers have identified the foot as belonging to an animal closely related to the long-necked, long-tailed sauropod Brachiosaurus, best known for its appearance in the movie Jurassic Park.

The researchers used 3-D scanning and detailed measurements to compare the specimen to feet from several other dinosaur species. Their study confirms that this foot is the biggest dinosaur foot discovered to date.

The study also shows that brachiosaurs lived from eastern Utah to northwestern Wyoming.

"This is surprising," Tschopp said. "Many other sauropod dinosaurs seem to have inhabited smaller areas during that time."

The rock outcrops that produced this fossil—the Black Hills region of Wyoming, famous today for tourist attractions like Mount Rushmore—hold many more dinosaur fossils, says Maltese. The research team hopes to continue their studies in this region.