March 21st

2007 – Oryctodromeus described

On this day in dinosaurs, we meet a little herbivore from present day Montana and Idaho that introduced paleontologists to an entirely new kind of dinosaur trace fossil (like those we discussed yesterday). Around 95 million years ago Oryctodromeus was digging burrows.

Oryctodromeus burrow / Dinosaur Pictures

At 7 feet long and around 50 pounds, Oryctodromeus was excavating protective burrows for their young. Three juveniles were discovered in a burrow that was about as long as an adult. Parents likely cared for the young in the burrow, much as modern digging animals do. This protection was ultimately the family’s downfall. The youngsters were found buried in sandstone that had filled in the mudstone burrow. Something must have befallen the parents and the children were stranded without food or aid.

While the fossilized family paid a terrible price, we are able to glimpse their world more vividly because of their tragedy. Now, we can imagine dinosaurs frantically tunneling into hillsides, preparing for nest sites. We can picture these creatures entering and exiting their quarries, bringing food to their offspring. It’s a vivid and dramatic Cretaceous scene–and more exciting than just the discovery of skeletal fragments. The trace fossil burrow really brings these dinosaurs back to life.

Post your favorite Oryctodromeus photos or other dinosaur trace fossils and share them with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.