Guinea fowl feet recreate dino tracks

A model using guineafowl and simulated poppy seeds helps clarify previously unexplained features of a Jurassic dinosaur track. (Credit: "guinea fowl" via Shutterstock)

Scientists are using a chicken-like bird’s stroll through a bed of poppy seeds to better understand a dinosaur footprint from 200 million years ago.

The researchers used measurements from X-ray videos of the 3D foot movement of a guineafowl as an input for a computer simulation of a substrate of poppy seeds.

In this way, they could visualize the displacement of seeds through time and study the “birth” of tracks at different depths. The researchers then used the model to clarify previously unexplained features of a Jurassic dinosaur track.

Stephen Gatesy, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown, describes the video summarizing the approach: “On the left, a guineafowl walking through poppy seeds is captured by high-speed (250 fps) video using X-ray and standard light imaging. Three-dimensional bone models have been registered by X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM) and overlaid on both videos.


“On the right are animations of our particle simulation produced using the real foot motion by the discrete element method (DEM). Simulations enable visualization of how footprints form at any depth through interaction among foot shape, foot movement, and substrate properties. In this dry, sand-like material, very clear tracks are preserved below the surface, but these reflect foot entry and exit rather than static anatomy.

“Relating track features to formation dynamics helps explain the origin of track diversity in the fossil record and aids reconstruction of dinosaur locomotion.”

Gatesy worked with former postdoctoral fellow Peter Falkingham, who is now at the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom.

More information about the study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is available online.

Source: Brown University