, Volume 94, Issue 8, pp 657–665 | Cite as

Earliest zygodactyl bird feet: evidence from Early Cretaceous roadrunner-like tracks

  • Martin G. LockleyEmail author
  • Rihui Li
  • Jerald D. Harris
  • Masaki Matsukawa
  • Mingwei Liu
Original Paper


Fossil footprints are important in understanding Cretaceous avian diversity because they constitute evidence of paleodiversity and paleoecology that is not always apparent from skeletal remains. Early Cretaceous bird tracks have demonstrated the existence of wading birds in East Asia, but some pedal morphotypes, such as zygodactyly, common in modern and earlier Cenozoic birds (Neornithes) were unknown in the Cretaceous. We, herein, discuss the implications of a recently reported, Early Cretaceous (120–110 million years old) trackway of a large, zygodactyl bird from China that predates skeletal evidence of this foot morphology by at least 50 million years and includes the only known fossil zygodactyl footprints. The tracks demonstrate the existence of a Cretaceous bird not currently represented in the body fossil record that occupied a roadrunner (Geococcyx)-like niche, indicating a previously unknown degree of Cretaceous avian morphological and behavioral diversity that presaged later Cenozoic patterns.


Zygodactyl Cretaceous Roadrunner China Evolution Diversity 



Earlier drafts of this manuscript were greatly improved by discussions with and comments and reviews by L. Chiappe, M. Lamanna, G. Mayr, A. R. C. Milner, J. O’Connor, H.-L. You, and an anonymous reviewer. This study was supported financially, in part, by National Natural Science Foundation of China grant 40572011 to RL. Additional support was provided by the University and Society Collaboration of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture grant-in-aid 1183303, 1999–2001 to M. M. and by the CU at Denver Dinosaur Tracks Museum to ML. The authors declare that all material was collected, examined, and replicated in full compliance with the laws of their countries.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin G. Lockley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rihui Li
    • 2
  • Jerald D. Harris
    • 3
  • Masaki Matsukawa
    • 4
  • Mingwei Liu
    • 5
  1. 1.Dinosaur Tracks MuseumUniversity of Colorado at DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Qingdao Institute of Marine GeologyChina Geological SurveyQingdaoPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Science DepartmentDixie State CollegeSt. GeorgeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Environmental SciencesTokyo Gakugei UniversityKoganeiJapan
  5. 5.Fourth Geological and Mineral Resources Survey of ShandongWei-fangPeople’s Republic of China

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