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Largest Dinosaur Foot Ever Found Belonged to Brachiosaurus Relative

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Ruler placed next to partially excavated bones to demonstrate their large size.
In 1998, an expedition crew from the University of Kansas discovered a large fossilized brachiosaur foot in the Black Hills region of Wyoming. 
Photo courtesy of the KUVP archives

Sauropod dinosaurs were among the largest animals to ever walk the Earth, so it stands to reason that their enormous bodies would have been carried on huge feet. Now, new research has found that the largest fossil foot discovered to date belonged to a dinosaur, a close relative of the long-necked, long-tailed Brachiosaurus.

The nearly 1-meter-wide fossil foot was first uncovered 20 years ago, during a 1998 expedition to the Black Hills region of Wyoming led by a team from the University of Kansas. At the time, the specimen was identified as belonging to “an extremely large animal,” according to Anthony Maltese, lead author on a new study published on July 24 in the journal PeerJ.

 

Rendering of a brachiosaurus stretching its long neck up to the top of an Araucaria tree to grab a bit of its leaves.
This illustration shows a Brachiosaurus eating from an Araucaria tree. These dinosaurs had enormous necks and relatively short tails. 
© Davide Bonadonna, Milan, Italy

Using 3D scanning and detailed measurements, researchers compared the specimen to fossil feet from other dinosaur species and confirmed it as the largest dinosaur foot ever found. It belonged to a close relative of the long-necked, long-tailed Brachiosaurus, best known as the towering sauropod featured in Jurassic Park.  

“This beast was clearly one of the biggest that ever walked in North America,” said co-author Emanuel Tschopp, Theodore Roosevelt Richard Gilder Graduate School postdoctoral fellow in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology and author on the PeerJ study.

The study also revealed that brachiosaurs inhabited a larger area of North America than previously thought, spanning habitats from eastern Utah to northwestern Wyoming.

“This is surprising,” said Tschopp. “Many other sauropod dinosaurs seem to have inhabited smaller areas during that time.”

For a look at an ongoing sauropod fossil research project at the Museum, join our Facebook group Dino Detectives.