Ancient Footprints in Lesotho Suggest Early Evolution of Birdlike Feet

Trisauropodiscus footprints discovered in Lesotho reveal birdlike characteristics predating the earliest known birds by millions of years.

Footprints preserved in stone in Lesotho, Africa, have provided a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of birdlike feet. These footprints, estimated to be around 215 million years old, predate the earliest known birds by approximately 60 million years. The discovery challenges previous assumptions about the timeline of avian evolution and raises intriguing questions about the existence of birdlike creatures in prehistoric times.

Unraveling the Mystery of Trisauropodiscus

Miengah Abrahams and Emese Bordy, researchers from the University of Cape Town, embarked on a study of footprints found at a site called Maphutseng in Lesotho. They also examined casts and sketches from four other locations in the region. The focus of their investigation was a peculiar type of footprint known as Trisauropodiscus, characterized by its distinct three-toed shape.

Birdlike Characteristics

Through their analysis, Abrahams and Bordy discovered that the Trisauropodiscus footprints could be divided into two main groups based on their shape. One group exhibited striking similarities to the footprints of modern birds. These birdlike footprints featured a wide splay in the outer digits, reminiscent of waterbirds, and slender toes, with the central toe not projecting far forward. The overall shape closely resembled both fossil and modern bird tracks.

A Glimpse into Prehistoric Diversity

The second group of Trisauropodiscus footprints had more rounded, robust, and elongated toes that were less splayed out. These footprints bore a resemblance to another type of footprint known as Anomoepus, which is associated with dinosaurs possessing birdlike hips. The presence of these distinct footprints suggests that birdlike feet may have evolved independently in various animal groups, long before the emergence of the first birds.

The Enigmatic Creator of the Footprints

While the footprints provide valuable insights into the early evolution of birdlike feet, the identity of the creatures that made them remains a mystery. Abrahams notes that the footprints are unlikely to belong to birds, and they are most likely dinosaur tracks. However, the exact dinosaur species responsible for these footprints is yet to be determined. The absence of comparable fossils in the local record adds to the intrigue surrounding these ancient footprints.


The discovery of birdlike footprints in Lesotho challenges our understanding of avian evolution. The Trisauropodiscus footprints, dating back 215 million years, reveal that the evolution of birdlike feet occurred much earlier than previously thought, predating the earliest known birds by millions of years. The presence of two distinct groups of footprints suggests that birdlike feet may have evolved independently in various animal groups, adding complexity to the story of avian evolution. While the identity of the creatures that left these footprints remains elusive, the discovery provides a tantalizing glimpse into the rich and diverse prehistoric world. Further research and exploration in Lesotho and other regions hold the promise of uncovering more secrets about the evolutionary history of birds and their ancient ancestors.






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