TUMBLER RIDGE, B.C. – A local researcher was among a team that has uncovered what is believed to be the largest ancient crocodylian tracks and swim traces in the world in the Peace region.

Scientific advisor and founder of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, Dr. Charles Helm, says this is the first track evidence and swim trace evidence reported of giant crocodiles.

Swim traces are made from the crocodiles scratching the bottom of rivers while swimming.

“This is the first time in Canada, and really one of the first times in North America as well as the first time in the world that there have been crocodile tracks and traces of this size described,” Helm said.

“What we now have is tracks and swim traces of giant crocodiles, anything from eight to ten or even maybe twelve meters long, which are among the biggest crocodiles that are ever known to have existed,” Helm said.

According to the TRMF, evidence suggests the animals found around Tumbler Ridge were about 9 metres long and possibly as long as 12 metres. By comparison, the record length of crocodiles living today is 6 metres.

“There have been periodically, actually quite a few times in the fossil records, that crocodiles exhibited what we call gigantism or giantism. Once in Africa, once in South America, once in Asia, and once in North America,” Helm explained.

However, Helm says all that evidence was from bones.

“All of that evidence has been from the body fossil record, you know, finding a skull or part of the vertebral column or something like that,” Helm said.

The foundation says the traces are from the Dunvegan Formation from the Cretaceous Period (Cenomanian stage, 95–97 million years old). The significant swim traces may be a precursor to Deinosuchus, found in the fossil record from the U.S.A. and Mexico. Still, the northern B.C. crocodiles are older by at least 13 million years.

“For North America, that giant crocodile that we know from the body fossil record, the first evidence for that is that 82 million years and what we’ve got here in the Peace region is 95 to 97 million years old. So at least, you know, 13 to 15 million years older than the oldest bones,” Helm said

 

Helm says these tracks were discovered at multiple sites throughout the region.

“It’s not just one site. We actually have four or five sites that we described the swim traces from, and they’re spread through the region,” Helm said

“It’s not just Tumbler Ridge; it’s Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Taylor, and in between these communities, it really is the Peace region.”

TRMF says that in addition to the crocodile swim traces, many ankylosaur tracks were identified, along with ornithopod tracks and turtle traces.

The team’s findings were recently published in the international journal Historical Biology, adding to a previous paper in December on smaller crocodile swim traces Helm helped to describe.

Helm says for him; these findings instill a sense of pride in the region he resides.

“This is the first of any evidence of a giant crocodile in Canada,  And this is in our Peace region. To me, it’s just another reason to be immensely proud of where we live; it’s got all these sorts of records if we’re willing to delve back into the past and open our eyes and look for things. ” Helm said.

Helm says he hopes to display the tracks to the public soon.

“We’re hoping that over time, we’re able to develop new exhibits that feature these things. I think people are going to want to come and see that we’ve got some of the biggest crocodile evidence in Canada, and amongst the top, in the world, and we’ll do our best to exhibit this,” Helm said.

The team of researchers included Dr. Helm, Guy Plint, a sedimentologist from the University of Western Ontario, who has been studying sedimentary outcrops in the Peace Region for decades and Martin Lockley, an ichnologist from the University of Colorado Denver, with extensive experience with crocodile and ankylosaur tracks and traces.

The Museum says volunteers, including Tiffany Hetenyi and Lisa MacKenzie, contributed extensively to the fieldwork performed at these sites.

The Tumbler Ridge Museum, located in the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark in Treaty 8 Territory, researches, displays, and archives over 300 million years of Northeast B.C. history.

 

 

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