While virtually all Rotodactylus (Peabody 1948) tracks (digitigrade, proximal phalanges elevated, long stride, narrow gauge manus / wider pes, occasionally bipedal, first digit impresses at tip only, fifth digit impresses far behind the others, extremely variable speed) are the right shape to fit the Cosesaurus (Ellenberger and Villalta 1974) pes, as we learned earlier here, some Rotodactylus tracks are BIG (4-5 cm length)! That’s way too big for Cosesaurus to fill. So the search is on for something like Cosesaurus, but far bigger and wide ranging (Fig. 1). Rotodactylus tracks have been found across Europe and the western USA and they range across the Early to Middle Triassic.
So, after touting the perfect match of Cosesaurus to Rotodactylus tracks (Peters 2000), this is the first time I’ve conformed Cosesaurus to a quadrupedal pose to match these much larger tracks from the Early (=Lower) Triassic (Solling and Röt formations. Scythian/Anisian) of Germany. Haubold (1983) likened Lagosuchus (Maraschus), but that’s not as good a match as Cosesaurus and Langobardisaurus, which were not so well known or described in the early ’80s.
So, Rotodactylus tracks are not archosaurian, but proto-pterosaurian, fenestrasaurian.
Haubold listed 4 points that were significant in the development of archosaurs:
- “Reduction of the manus as [a] function of bipedalism;
- Stride length in relation to width of trackway and pace angulation (small trackway pattern) as a function of semierect to erect gait;
- Reduction of pes digits 1 and 5 as a function of tridactylism (this point is unique in Rotodactylus, which impresses digit 5 far behind the others).
- The cross axis of the pes and the outward orientation of the pes axis to the direction of movement. A more rectangular cross axis may demand a mesotarsal joint.”
Rotodactylus tracks show extreme speed variation, which is rare for reptiles, but compliments the higher metabolic niche of fenestrasaurs.
By assigning Rotodactylus tracks to basal bipedal archosaurs, Haubold made the same hopeful mistake that Brusatte et al. (2011) and Niedzwiedzki et al. (2013) made assigning Rotodactylus tracks to Lagerpeton. These workers hoped it was transitional to dinosaurs, but the match was poor, both phylogenetically and morphologically. The better match is between Cosesaurus and Rotodactylus (Peters 2000, Fig. 3).
So, what about those really BIG Rotodactylus tracks? They were made my really big mostly quadrupedal cosesaurs, evidently. And evidently, only the little cosesaurus were better bipeds, capable of flapping.
So, widespread Rotodactylus tracks demonstrate that cosesaurs were widespread. They also appeared in a variety of sizes. While the large ones remained quadrupedal, like ancestral macrocnemids, the small ones became increasingly bipedal. This radiation of tritosaur lizards preceded the radiation of squamates in the Jurassic and later epochs.
Brusatte SL, Niedz´wiedzki G and Butler RJ 2011. Footprints pull origin and diversification of dinosaur stem lineage deep into Early Triassic. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278, 1107–1113.
Ellenberger P and de Villalta JF 1974. Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne). Note preliminaire. Acta Geologica Hispanica 9, 162-168.
Haubold H 1983. Archosaur evidence in the Buntsandstein (Lower Triassic). Second Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems, Jadwisin 1981. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 28 (1-2):123-132.
Niedzwiedzki G, Brusatte SL and Butler RJ 2013. Prorotodactylus and Rotodactylus tracks: an ichnological record of dinosauromorphs from the Early–Middle Triassic of Poland. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, first published April 23, 2013. doi 10.1144/SP379.12
Peabody FE 1948. Reptile and amphibian trackways from the Lower Triassic Moenkopi formation of Arizona and Utah. University of California Publications, Bulletin of the Department of Geological Sciences 27: 295-468.
Peters D 2000. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods. Ichnos 7:11-41.