The fossil of a dinosaur sitting on a nest of eggs with fossilised babies inside has been unearthed in a world-first discovery that sheds light on how the creatures hatched their young.
The skeletal remains of an oviraptorosaur — a birdlike theropod* that roamed the Earth during the Cretaceous Period more than 66 million years ago — were found in 70 million-year-old rocks dug up in Ganzhou, China, according to a report published in the journal Science Bulletin.
The partially preserved feathered dinosaur had been incubating* a nest of 24 eggs, seven of which contained the remains of skeletons of developing babies, palaeontologists* said in the report.
The groundbreaking* finding is a sign that oviraptorosaurs sat on nests like their present-day bird cousins, rather than guarding clutches of eggs like crocodiles and other reptiles.
“This kind of discovery — in essence fossilised behaviour — is the rarest of the rare in dinosaurs,” said study author Matthew Lamanna, of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the US.
“Though a few adult oviraptorids have been found on nests of their eggs before, no embryos* have ever been found inside those eggs.”
Scientists ruled out the possibility that the dinosaur had died while laying eggs due to the late stage of the embryos.
They also did tests that showed the eggs were incubated at high temperatures, just like yet-to-hatch baby birds.
They also found that while all the embryos were well-developed, some appeared to be more mature than others, suggesting the eggs might have been due to hatch at slightly different times. This is known as “asynchronous hatching”, an incubation method that appears to have evolved in oviraptorid dinosaurs and some modern birds.
“This dinosaur was a caring parent that ultimately gave its life while nurturing* its young,” Dr Lamanna said in the report.
Other members of the multinational* research team hailed the fossil finding as a breakthrough of Jurassic proportions.
“It’s extraordinary to think how much biological information is captured in just this single fossil,” said palaeontologist Xing Xu from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.
“We’re going to be learning from this specimen for many years to come.”
The report doesn’t note how large the fossilised dinosaur or her eggs were but oviraptorosaurs ranged in size from a turkey to larger than an elephant.
The world's largest Dinosaur tracks have been discovered in Queensland
- theropod: meat eating dinosaurs with two feet
- incubating: sitting on eggs to keep them warm until they hatch
- palaeontologists: scientists who study fossils
- groundbreaking: very new and a big change
- embryos: unborn or unhatched babies
- nurturing: caring for
- multinational: consisting of multiple countries
- When did oviraptorosaurs roam the Earth?
- How many eggs were found in the nest?
- How many of the eggs contained the remains of skeletons of babies?
- The find shows oviraptorosaurs sat on their nests rather than guarding them like which other animal?
- What is asynchronous hatching?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Museum label
If you have ever visited a museum, you will have seen the museum labels (also known as captions or tombstones) that accompany each display to explain what they are. Perhaps the fossilised oviraptorosaur and it’s eggs will end up displayed in a museum. Write the label that would accompany them.
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.