Prehistoric find: Triassic period vertebrate tracks are earliest discovered in Nevada

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Becky Humphrey, a grad student paleontologist at UNLV, is studying Triassic vertebrate tracks found in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Tue, Oct 1, 2019 (2 a.m.)

More than 200 million years ago, at the dawn of the Mesozoic era, Southern Nevada was beachfront property, with tidal flats at today's California border. It was a time known as the Age of Reptiles, as crocodile-like creatures walked the planet alongside the earliest dinosaurs.

Little is known about the animals that lived in Nevada during this ancient era. But that may change, with the discovery of the first Triassic period vertebrate tracks found in Nevada, at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, adding another piece to that puzzle.

The Triassic is the first period of the Mesozoic Era.

“This find gives us a peek at Southern Nevada 240 million years ago, during a time not well known in our state, before dinosaurs came to dominate and the land was ruled by crocodile-like animals,” said Josh Bonde, curator of paleontology at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. “Our team is proud to be out there contributing to the story of the deep history of Nevada.”

The tracks were discovered in 2018 by UNLV student Alex Purcell.

Bonde and UNLV graduate student Becky Humphrey presented the discovery at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Phoenix last week.

Humphrey plans to spend the coming months studying the tracks — the earliest known in Nevada — to learn more about the animals that left them.

“I know for sure some of them were left behind by crocodile-like animals,” she said. “Some may even be early mammal tracks.”

Humphrey said the tracks should provide insight into the behavior of Nevada’s oldest vertebrates. “The thing about these trackways is they not only tell us what they were, but behavior patterns that bones can’t tell us, like which way they walked or the gait they had,” she said.

Humphrey said she hopes to release her findings by the end of the year.

The tracks are on display at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. For more information, go online to www.lvnhm.org or call 702-384–3466.

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