Provides hard evidence reptiles were brooding parents

BY CARLY CASSELLA

An international team of scientists has announced the discovery of an extraordinary fossilized nest in China, preserving at least eight separate dinosaurs from 70 million years ago.

The clutch of ancient eggs belongs to a medium-sized adult oviraptor, and we know that because the parent is actually part of the fossil.

Restoration (white indicates bones preserved in the adult skeleton). (Bi et al., Science Bulletin, 2020)

The skeleton of this ostrich-like theropod is positioned in a crouch over two dozen eggs, at least seven of which were on the brink of hatching and still contain embryos inside.

The ancient scene is unprecedented and provides the first hard evidence that dinosaurs were brooding parents, laying their eggs and incubating them for quite a long time.

The new specimen was recovered from the Nanxiong Formation of Ganzhou in South China – a region renowned for the world’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur eggs – but it’s unlike anything scientists have found before. 

The 70-million-year-old fossil. (Shundong Bi/Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

The relationship between dinosaur parent and embryo has never been closer than this. The body of the adult oviraptor is preserved in “extremely close proximity to the eggs“, with little to no sediment in between.

In at least seven of the eggs, embryonic material was found exposed, including ossified bones in identifiable shapes.

One of the eggs may actually contain a complete skeleton, with its vertebrae, dorsal ribs, a humerus, both ilia and femora, and a tibia laid out in a curled position.

“In the new specimen, the babies were almost ready to hatch, which tells us beyond a doubt that this oviraptorid had tended its nest for quite a long time,” explains Lamanna.

“This dinosaur was a caring parent that ultimately gave its life while nurturing its young.”

Artwork of oviraptor dinosaur brooding on a nest of blue-green eggs. (Zhao Chuang/PNSO)

“It’s extraordinary to think how much biological information is captured in just this single fossil,” says paleontologist Xing Xu from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.

“We’re going to be learning from this specimen for many years to come.”

The study was published in the Science Bulletin

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