Prehistoric Animals


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Dinosaurs paws

Mode of locomotion

Dinosaurs had various ways of moving. The giant quadrupeds went quietly while the small more agile bipeds could reach spectacular speeds. The reign of the dinosaurs was flourishing partly because of their posture. Even in the larger quadrupeds the body was carried by the hind limbs. For many, it meant that they could stand on their hind legs to defend themselves or to show their anger. For others, this involved two modes of locomotion: four-legged to move, and two legs to escape. Many dinosaurs were bipedal, leaving their arms and hands free to catch prey or food. The first dinosaurs were all bipedal, although several groups became quadrupeds They left an extra asset to their descendants: their hind limbs stood vertically above the body, and moved back and forth on the same plane as the body and in the direction of walking. The majority of the competing animals were more likely to crawl, their transverse legs rotating each time in the desired direction; their gait was therefore lumpish and these animals needed more energy.



Standing on their long hind legs, some dinosaurs like ornithomimids could run very fast. Their speed can be roughly calculated by comparing the length of the bone below the knee (shin) and that above the knee (femur): the longer the shin, the stronger the stride. Ornithomimids and Oviraptors had a particularly long shin and a relatively short femur (although large compared to the size of the animal). Estimates have been made of the speed of movement of dinosaurs from theoretical skeletal calculations and accurate measurements of fossilized tracks. It appeared that the most agile theropods and ornithopods could reach at least 40 km / h. As a general rule, the bigger the animal, the slower it is. It is therefore thought that theropods, large in size, probably did not exceed 15 km / h. Although quadruped dinosaurs were still constrained by this rule, their ability to gallop or trot allowed them to walk longer. Giant dinosaurs such as sauropods probably never went fast. They had massive paws, and their dorsal and lumbar vertebrae described a bow that carried the full weight of the body in the manner of a suspension bridge.

In herds

Triceratops herds

The fossil tracks show how dinosaurs used to move. They also give us unique information about the groups and flocks they formed. Larger theropods were apparently solitary creatures or moving in pairs or small groups. The smaller ones preferred groups of dozens of individuals. The fossilized track near Winton, Queensland, Australia, shows footprints of dozens of small theropods and small ornithopods that had to flee from a large predatory theropod. The sauropods apparently moved in groups of about ten individuals of the same species but of different ages. There was evidence that the youngest remained in the center, inside a cordon of protection formed by the older ones. The larger ornithopods and ceratopsians formed large herds of hundreds or perhaps thousands of individuals. Since groups of large herbivores of this size would have quickly stripped whole areas of their vegetation, it is very likely that they migrated each year to seasonal pastures. This hypothesis is confirmed by the tracks showing hundreds of animal footprints oriented in the same direction, and by fossils of the same species that have been discovered much further. The migrations of a herd of ceratopsians or hadrosaurs were much like the current migrations of American Bison or African wildebeest.