Tetrapod trace fossils from lowermost Jurassic strata of the Moenave Formation, northern Arizona, USA

Lawrence TANNER, Spencer LUKAS


At Moenkopi Wash along the Ward Terrace escarpment of northern Arizona strata of the upper Dinosaur Canyon Member of the Moenave Formation contain sedimentary structures we interpret as casts of tetrapod burrows. Sandstone casts and in situ burrows occur concentrated in two horizons that extend several hundred meters along the Ward Terrace escarpment. The structures, hosted in beds of eolian sandstone, form interconnecting networks of burrows that branch at right angles. Individual burrow casts have sub-circular cross sections and consist of nearvertical tunnels and horizontal to low-angle galleries that connect to larger chambers. Most burrow casts measure 5 to 15 cm in diameter, are filled by sandstone of similar grain size as the host rock, and have walls that are unlined and lack external ornamentation. Bedding plane exposure of the lower horizon reveals that the density of burrows exceeds 30 vertical tunnels per square meter. One exposure in the upper horizon reveals burrows concentrated in a mound-like structure with 1 m of relief. Rhizoliths, distinguished from burrows by their typical smaller diameters, calcareous infilling, and downward branching, co-occur with these burrows in the upper horizon. The fossil burrows in the Moenave Formation appear to have been constructed by a fossorial tetrapod with social behavior similar to the modern Mediterranean blind mole-rat. Although no skeletal remains are associated with the burrows, the fossil record suggests that the most likely producers of the Moenave burrows were tritylodontid cynodonts.


burrows; tetrapod; cynodont; tritylodontid; rhizolith; Moenave; Lower Jurassic

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