Smallest-ever fossil footprints found

A new set of fossil footprints discovered in Nova Scotia are believed to be the world’s smallest known to be left by a vertebrate.

The footprints were left by a small salamander-like creature, ichnogenus Batrachichnus salamandroides, around 315 million years ago.

They were collected by local amateur paleontologist Gloria Melanson, at Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“This was one of the most exciting finds I have ever made and I am very pleased that, along with my colleagues, we are able to share it with the world,” she says.

“Every big fossil find is by chance; it’s all about being lucky and recognizing what you’re looking at. When I saw the very small tail and toes I knew we had something special. I never thought it would be the world’s smallest.”

The 48-mm-long trackway shows around 30 footprints, with the front feet measuring just 1.6mm long and the back feet 2.4mm. The creature itself was only around 8mm long – about half an inch – and was still a juvenile.

It appears to have started off walking, and then changed direction as it broke into a run. The team speculates that the prints could mark some of the creature’s first footsteps on land after transforming from a tadpole stage that hatched in a local pond.

The change in direction and speed could represent the animal becoming startled by a larger predator, or perhaps hunting small insects itself.