What made those Early Triassic tracks?

Mujal et al. 2017
reported on an Early Triassic tracksite dominated by what they considered to be ‘archosauromorph’ trackmakers (Fig. 1), akin to coeval Euparkeria (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Early Triassic tracks from Mujal et al. 2017 compared to Didelphis, the extant Virginia opossum to scale. I don’t see any lateral expansion due to a hooked metatarsal (as in Fig. 2) here.

Unfortunately, the track in question
identified as Prorotodactylus mesaxonichnus IPS-93867 had three long slender digits (2–4), about the same length, #2 a stitch shorter. #1 and #5 much shorter. The width is about 2 cm. The pes is much larger than the manus. All in all, it is close to the shape and size of Didelphis, the extant, but very ancient Virginia opossum (Fig. 1). Originally the track was assigned to a taxon near Euparkeria, and it’s a pretty good match, but there is no indication of a hooked metatarsal 5 and digit 3 is often the longest (BUT see below).

Figure 2. Euparkeria pes.

Figure 2. Euparkeria pes is similar in size and configuration to the Early Triassic trackmaker. Note the hooked lateral metatarsal (#5) and digit #3 the longest.

Among archosauriformes
in proterosuchids and Garjainia pedal digit 4 is the longest. Some chorisoderes retain this pattern. In some 3 and 4 are the longest. In Champsosaurus 3 is the longest. Similar patterns are found in phytosaurs. In basal proterochampsids digit 3 is the longest. In derived proterochampsids like Tropidosuchus and Lagerpeton digit 4 is not slender and it is the longest in the series. None are matches for the

Among euarchosauriformes
In Euparkeria, as in most euarchosauriformes, digit 3 is longer than 2 and 4 and much longer than 1 and 5. In erythrosuchids pedal digits 2 and 3 are slightly longer than 4, but all are short and large. Ornithosuchus has long toes and short fingers, but it is a much larger taxon. Pedal digit 3 is still the longest. Same with Qianosuchus and Ticinosuchus.

Among basal diapsids and enaliosaurs
the pes is typically asymmetric with digit 4 or digits 3 and 4 the longest. The same with lepidosaurs. Basal lepidosauromorphs have short digits.

Basal synapsids are no match, either.
because they, too, have asymmetric feet. That changes with therapsids, but most have short toes, similar sized manus and pes and are Permian in age. That changes with the pre-mammals, the tritylodontids, like Spinolestes, which extend into the Cretaceous. The only problem with many of the trackmakers with symmetrical pedes, they all had narrow-gauge trackways – distinct from the Early Triassic trackways, which are quite wide-gauge. We can’t discuss mammals, because they only developed in the Late Triassic, at the earliest.

There’s one more factor
To me it looks like the tracksite toes are webbed. If the trackmaker was mostly aquatic, it was more likely to have sprawling hind limbs.

So, in summary
the best match in terms of size, relative size, age, morphology and such… appear to be aquatic Early Triassic tritylodontids… or tiny unknown archosauromorphs somewhere between Proterosuchus and Euparkeria. That hypothetical taxon would have had a pes transitional between the long digit 4 of Proterosuchus and the long digit 3 of Euparkeria. I really could not find a better match for this tracksite maker. I could not nail it down with available candidates.

Mujal E, Fortuny J, Bolet A, Oms O, López JA 2017. An archosauromorph dominated ichnoassemblage in fluvial settings from the late Early Triassic of the Catalan Pyrenees (NE Iberian Peninsula). PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174693. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174693


2 thoughts on “What made those Early Triassic tracks?

  1. the tritylodontids, like Spinolestes

    -cono-, not -tylo-.

    Yes, I’ve followed the link, where you say the LRT has both Spinolestes and Jeholodens within Tritylodontidae. For a long list of reasons, one of which is a short look at the teeth, this is downright ridiculous.

  2. As you know, lots of taxa don’t nest in the LRT where they nest traditionally in other studies. It’s okay to report such nestings after a phylogenetic analysis where the taxa have 1000+ other opportunities to nest, including within the Mammalia. It’s less scientific (tell me if I’m wrong on the etiquette here) to report anything in science is ‘downright ridiculous’. And you know that. Since Spinolestes does not nest within Mammalia, it cannot nest within Triconodonta. Maybe we’re looking at convergent teeth here. That may be a more common phenomenon than realized.

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