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July 24, 2009

Digging Dinosaurs

Paleontologists have found all sorts of trace fossils from dinosaurs: footprints, nests, coprolites, stomach stones, and more. Paleontologist Anthony Martin, of Emory University, has recently added a new type of trace fossil to the list: dinosaur burrows.

Martin has found two seperate dinosaur burrow fossils thus far. The first, in Montana, contained the fossils of a small adult and two babies. Then, about a year later, he found a series of very similar burrows in Victoria, Australia.

There are a few different theories proposed to explain these burrows. One is that they were nest sites. The Montanan fossil supports this well. The other theory is more interesting. Burrowing can help insulate animals from extreme conditions. This would especially make sense with the Australian burrows. At the time they were formed (around 110 million years ago), Australia had just seperated from Antarctica, and was near the South Pole. Dinosaurs living there would have faced cold temperatures and long periods of darkness. Burrowing, along with sheltering in forests and hollows, might have helped these creatures survive.

The idea of a burrowing dinosaur is fascinating. Dinosaurs have been found to fit most other niches: giant grazers, leaf-eating browsers, smaller forest carnivores, and almost any other environment you can imagine. These new, burrowing dinosaurs fill in another niche, that scientists had previously thought was only held by the small mammals and reptiles of the time. It's an exciting new possibility. And, now that paleontologists know what to look for, I expect a lot of new dinosaur burrows will pop up over the next couple of years.

Credit: Science Daily- Down Under Dinosaur Burrow Discovery Provides Climate Change Clues