A visit to Denmark and Digitized Crocodile tracks

Last month I was fortunate to head over to Denmark and visit my friend and colleague Jesper Milàn at Geomuseum Faxe. We’ve worked together in the recent past (we have a chapter together in the forthcoming Dinosaur Tracks: Next Steps) but aside from a few conferences, we’ve never actually sat down in the same room to work on stuff before, despite saying for many years that we absolutely definitely should

So, I was very fortunate to receive a travel grant from the Society of Experimental Biology which gave me the impetus to get off my behind and travel over to Denmark to meet with Jesper and talk tracks. It was a wonderful trip, and great to see the museum, which is – I must say – fantastic! Not many geology museums have the advantage of overlooking a giant quarry filled with delightful fossils from coral to crabs to vertebrates.

Geomuseum Faxe
Geomuseum Faxe is a beautiful modern building beside an active quarry.

We had chance to head into the quarry (which is open to people heading in with hammer and chisel in hand) on the first day, as Jesper was taking a school group down to teach them about the local geology and palaeontology. I tagged along, relishing the chance to hang out in the field and hit some rocks with a hammer. And also to look for fossils.

The Quarry, and a close up of the fossil rich limestone
The Quarry, and a close up of the fossil rich limeston

Our little aside over, it was time to get on with the main focus of the trip: digitizing footprints. In this case, it was a series of cast crocodile tracks that Jesper collected some years ago and published on in:

Milàn, J. and R. Hedegaard (2010). “Interspecific variation in tracks and trackways from extant crocodiles.” New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 51: 15-30.

(whole bulletin available here)

In fact, Milàn and Hedegaard collected tracks and trackways from 12 species of extant crocodiles. What an amazing resource!

I like to work in a minimalist way. Take photos, put on surface and sync to onedrive, then run processing on lab computer remotely.
I like to work in a minimalist way. Take photos, put on surface and sync to onedrive, then run processing on lab computer remotely.

Partly, this was to digitize his collection of crocodile traces for posterity, as the casts are fragile and breaking. But also I have a fossil trace that looks a little bit crocodilian that I want to describe [more on that at a later date] and these would make excellent comparative data.

We also chatted emu and dinosaur tracks, which was immensely fruitful, and we came away with a couple of ideas for papers that will hopefully develop in the future.

Anyway, back to the crocodile traces. I asked Jesper if it would be ok to make them available, as I’ve done on my resources page, and he agreed. However, it’s a lot of data to present easily, and I think the importance of the resource is lost a little if I just chuck them up on a [badly organised] webpage*

And so I created this:

I hope you appreciate it [because it took 3 days to render!]. The models were imported into Autodesk Maya and arranged as though in a virtual museum. It’s not ideal for looking in detail at any specific track, but it does give you an idea of the data as a whole.

Anyway, the important part is that all of these models, and the photos that made them, are available freely online (links below). The models in the zip files are relatively low resolution meshes, as I was trying to downsize everything to fit into various upload limits. Usual caveats apply: If you use the files cite the file you used (Falkingham and Milàn 2015) and cite the original paper (Milàn and Hedegaard 2010).

The files are hosted under a single DOI at zenodo.org:

DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.31711  Link: https://zenodo.org/record/31711


*I really need to start putting this into some sort of searchable database, but I value research time too much to dedicate myself to it!

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