- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

An amateur paleontologist has found the first footprints of a 6-foot-long plant-eating dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 100 million years ago.

The footprints are the first evidence that members of the Hypsilophodon family roamed what is now Maryland.

“It was thrilling, in a sense, because it became a world ‘first,’ ” said Ray Stanford, 66, who has spent 10 years digging in streambeds near the Interstate 95 corridor, producing one of the largest collections of Maryland dinosaur footprints.

The discovery appears in the latest issue of “Ichnos,” an international journal for discoveries of tracks and “traces” of ancient plants and animals, rather than their fossils. The paper detailing the find was authored by geologists Robert E. Weems of the U.S. Geological Survey and Martin G. Lockley of the University of Colorado at Denver.

The footprints are from a dinosaur that either resembled or was a species known as Zephyrosaurus schaffi. The species of Hypsilophodon is known to have lived in Montana during the same early Cretaceous period.

Zephyrosaur means “lizard of the west wind.” The dinosaur that produced the Maryland tracks has been named Hypsiloichnus marylandicus, meaning “trace of a Hypsilophodon from Maryland.”

Members of the Hypsilophodon family mostly walked on their hind legs but dropped to all fours to rest, eat or drink. Each of Mr. Stanford’s prints reveals the animal in that position, with a smaller front foot set just in front of its larger hind foot.

“I always think of them as the Mesozoic equivalent of rabbits,” Mr. Weems told the Baltimore Sun.

Species of Hypsilophodon lived from the late Jurassic period about 150 million years ago to the end of the Cretaceous period and the close of the Dinosaur Age about 65 million years ago.

“Even from a distance, I could tell we had something important,” Mr. Stanford said.

The rock bore a larger, four-toed print from a rear foot instead of the usual three toes, with a much smaller, five-toed print just in front of it, instead of the usual four toes.

“It puzzled me for a time, until I looked through my dinosaur book that has the skeletal anatomy,” Mr. Stanford said. “I was astonished. It was a perfect match.”

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