Digit-only sauropod pes trackways from China – evidence of swimming or a preservational phenomenon?

Lida Xing, Daqing Li, Peter L Falkingham, Martin G Lockley, Mike J Benton, Hendrik Klein, Jianping Zhang, Hao Ran, W Scott Persons, Hui Dai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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For more than 70 years unusual sauropod trackways have played a pivotal role in debates about the swimming ability of sauropods. Most claims that sauropods could swim have been based on manus-only or manus-dominated trackways. However none of these incomplete trackways has been entirely convincing, and most have proved to be taphonomic artifacts, either undertracks or the result of differential depth of penetration of manus and pes tracks, but otherwise showed the typical pattern of normal walking trackways. Here we report an assemblage of unusual sauropod tracks from the Lower Cretaceous Hekou Group of Gansu Province, northern China, characterized by the preservation of only the pes claw traces, that we interpret as having been left by walking, not buoyant or swimming, individuals. They are interpreted as the result of animals moving on a soft mud-silt substrate, projecting their claws deeply to register their traces on an underlying sand layer where they gained more grip during progression. Other sauropod walking trackways on the same surface with both pes and manus traces preserved, were probably left earlier on relatively firm substrates that predated the deposition of soft mud and silt . Presently, there is no convincing evidence of swimming sauropods from their trackways, which is not to say that sauropods did not swim at all.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21138
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2016


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