Trace Fossils

termite trace fossil
These numerous small pits were made by termites gnawing on this dinosaur bone before fossilization. Scale bar is 6 inches.

What is a trace fossil?

Not all fossils are bone or other body parts! A trace fossil is a result of animal activity. For example, a dinosaur footprint or an arthropod burrow would be an example of a trace fossil.

Fossilized wood with burrows
The holes in this petrified wood are burrows made by beetles before fossilization. This tells us that some small animal once made its home in the wood. Scale bar is 6 inches.

What makes trace fossils superstars?

Although many different trace fossils are found at Dinosaur, some are exceptional specimens. One of these is a piece of dinosaur limb bone that has been partially chewed by termites. No termite body fossils have been found anywhere in the Morrison Formation, but this trace fossil shows that termites were a member of the Morrison ecosystem at Dinosaur.

Another spectacular trace fossil is a piece of petrified wood chock full of beetle borings. Beetle body fossils have never been found in anywhere of the Morrison Formation. Beetles must have also been present in the Morrison ecosystem at this time to make these marks.


Jurassic Fact: Insects are abundant in modern terrestrial ecosystems, yet there have been no confirmed insect body fossils anywhere in the Morrison. Virtually everything we know about Morrison insects comes from trace fossils.

For more information: Visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall where the termite and beetle trace fossils are on display.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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