Abstract

We describe and interpret a tracksite in the Lower Jurassic Aztec Sandstone in Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada. The site contains approximately one hundred tracks of the ichnogenus Brasilichnium, arranged in twelve, subparallel trackways, all on the same foreset bedding plane. The Brasilichnium trackmaker was most probably a fossorial, tritylodontid therapsid. Sedimentologicial analyses indicate that the trackway surface is a wind-ripple horizon with a primary dip of about 25°, and that the animals climbed straight up the slip face of the dune. A combination of features leads us to conclude that the footprints were impressed into a crust of moist, cohesive sand, leaving two modes of preserved tracks: (1) shallow, well-defined tracks without associated sand crescents, and (2) deeper, less well defined tracks with associated sand crescents. We interpret this assemblage of tracks to record gregarious behavior in a mixed-age group of tritylodontid therapsids. In the correlative Navajo Sandstone, other researchers have documented the presence of complex networks of burrows concentrated in elevated mounds, reminiscent of colonies of North American prairie dogs. The Brasilichnium trackmaker is a good candidate to have excavated the burrows. Although we cannot directly associate the Brasilichnium trackmaker with the burrow complexes, we hypothesize that these gregarious, fossorial animals lived in prairie-dog–town–like colonies. This study supports the aridity food-distribution hypothesis, which posits that the patchy distribution of food resources in arid environments creates selective pressure for colonial behavior.

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