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Bird X-Ray Reveals 'Birth' of Dinosaur Tracks [VIDEO]

Dec 10, 2014 09:21 AM EST

What could a guineafowl strolling through a bed of poppy seeds possible have to do with a dinosaur track made 250 million years ago? Well, a pair of researchers is using bird X-rays to reveal the "birth" of dinosaur tracks by comparing its movements with steps taken by a real prehistoric predator.

Scientists have been studying dinosaur tracks for years, without ever really understanding the animal that left them behind.

Stephen Gatesy of Brown University and his co-author Peter Falkingham, now at the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom, essentially used a guineafowl as a stand-in for a similarly sized dinosaur (Corvipes lacertoideus) that once walked the Earth - specifically, 250 million years ago.

Using a combination of 3D X-ray technology, animation and simulation, researchers imaged the sub-surface foot movements of this chicken-like bird as it walked through an enclosed bed of poppy seeds. This soft surface allows researchers to account for changes in foot shape and movement of the material being trod upon, among other factors.

"By observing how a footprint is formed, from the moment the foot hits the sediment until it leaves, we can directly associate motions with features left behind in the track. We can then study a fossil track left by a dinosaur and say 'ok, these features of the track are similar, but these are different, so what does that mean for the way the animal was walking?'" Falkingham said in a news release from the Royal Veterinary College.

The virtual footprint was created via two X-ray videos with a digital skeletal model based off CT scans and a 3D motion analysis called X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM). They then fed data of the bird's movements into a supercomputer to simulate all the parts working together.

The findings, described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can help researchers gain a better understanding of how C. lacertoideus and other dinosaurs walked through technology that allows them to reconstruct features of the foot that are not seen in the fossilized print.

"Relating track features to formation dynamics helps explain the origin of track diversity in the fossil record and aids reconstruction of dinosaur locomotion," Gatesy added in a statement.

This latest study goes hand in hand with recent research that used bipedal quails to better understand dinosaur gait.

[Credit: Peter Falkingham]

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