By Megan Marples, CNN
This dinosaur could sprint at speeds as swift as the world’s fastest human.
Theropods were carnivorous dinosaurs that ran on two legs. Their feet had three toes with sharp claws, similar to some dinosaurs like velociraptors that are depicted in movies.
Using fossilized footprints left in dirt in La Rioja, Spain, researchers were able to identify the running speeds of two different dinosaurs, according to research published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.
The theropod that made the larger pair of tracks, which were called La Torre 6A-14, was running between 14.5 and 23.1 miles per hour (23.3 and 37.2 kilometers per hour). This is one of the fastest theropod running speeds calculated, according to the study.
The owner of the smaller tracks, which were called La Torre 6B-1, outran the other theropod at speeds between 19.7 and 27.7 miles per hour (31.7 and 44.6 kilometers per hour). Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human, ran up to 27.3 miles per hour (43.9 kilometers per hour) during a 100-meter race in 2011, making the theropod only slightly faster than him.
Tracks captured in lake mud
Researchers had five footprints to analyze from La Torre 6A-14 and seven from La Torre 6B-1. Fast-running dinosaur prints are difficult to find, said study coauthor Pablo Navarro-Lorbés, a doctoral candidate at the University of La Rioja, Spain.
The theropods likely lived during the Lower Cretaceous period, Navarro-Lorbés said, which was 145 million to 100.5 million years ago. During that time, there was a lake system in the area that experienced water level changes, he added.
“During low water level timespans dinosaurs could walk and run over these lake deposits, printing their steps in the mud,” Navarro-Lorbés explained via email.
The scientists used a formula to determine how fast the theropods were running. The researchers used the relation between the hop height of the animal, which was found by measuring the footprint length, and the stride length, which was the distance between two successive footprints made by the same foot, he said.
Mystery theropod species
It’s unknown what species these theropods were, Navarro-Lorbés said. The research team hypothesized that they came from either the spinosaurid or carcharodontosaurid families.
Based on the features of the footprints, it’s likely the two footprint tracks were made by theropods of the same species, although one was likely smaller in size than the other, he said.
A typical theropod stretched about 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall and 13.1 to 16.4 feet (4 to 5 meters) long, according to Navarro-Lorbés. They hunted other dinosaurs and animals for food, he added.
The findings help the scientific community understand more about dinosaurs’ habits and how fast certain animals could run during this time, Navarro-Lorbés said, which paint a more detailed image of how these creatures lived.
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