Dinosaur fossils are merely a recent discovery in the course of history, and if that sounds like the discovery of the century, well… we’ve unearthed more than just their bones. There’s an unprecedented fossil of a baby dinosaur that was found curled up in its egg, which paleontologists believe will shed more light between dinosaurs and their feathered cousins.
Related media: Meet Baby Yingliang, A 70-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur That Never Hatched
Once Upon A Curled Up
In a recent study which was published in the Journal iScience, paleontologists discovered a well-preserved fossil of the embryonic skeleton of a baby dinosaur still curled up in its egg. The discovery was a 70-million-year-old fossil of an oviraptorid dinosaur. It was named “Baby Yingliang” after the Chinese museum that hosts the fossil.
The egg measured roughly 17 centimeters (7 inches) long, but the baby dinosaur was estimated to be 27 centimeters (11 inches) long from head to tail. Baby dinosaurs bones are said to be small and fragile, and are very rarely preserved, making this discovery a “Holy Grail.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes because it is so perfectly preserved,” said Darla Zelenitsky, an associate professor in the department of geoscience at the University of Calgary in Canada, and co-author of the study. “It is an amazing specimen … I have been working on dinosaur eggs for 25 years and have yet to see anything like it,”
Dinosaur Tucking Insider
The study also found that the position of Baby Yingliang — among other previously discovered oviraptorid embryos — were moving and changing poses before hatching in a way similar to baby birds today. These movements are associated with a general behavior known as tucking — a process controlled by the central nervous system, which is also critical for successful hatching.
“Most known non-avian dinosaur embryos are incomplete with skeletons disarticulated (bones separated at the joints),” said Waisum Ma, a researcher at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and led author of the study, in a statement.“We were surprised to see this embryo beautifully preserved inside a dinosaur egg, lying in a bird-like posture. This posture had not been recognized in non-avian dinosaurs before.”
According to researchers, they believe that had it hatched and grew as an adult, it would have been about two to three meters (six to nine feet) long. In theory, all birds directly evolve from group of bipedal (two-legged) dinosaurs known as theropods. These include the likes of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex (also known as T-rex) and the smaller velociraptors.
The pre-hatching behavior described earlier isn’t the only present-day behavior modern birds share with dinosaurs. The same kind of dinosaurs are also known to have sat on top of their eggs to incubate them in a way similar to birds, Zelenitsky said.
“Up until now, little has been known of what was going on inside a dinosaur’s egg prior to hatching, as there are so few embryonic skeletons, particularly those that are complete and preserved in a life pose,” she said in an email.
A Nearly Forgotten Tale
Baby Yingliang’s fossil was found over 20 years ago in the Jiangxi province of China, and was acquired by Yingliang Group — a Chinese stone company under the leadership of Liang Liu in 2000. The specimen ended up in storage for over a decade until staff at the museum rediscovered it when they were sorting out stuff in boxes while the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum was under construction. The museum is subsidized by the company.
Source: Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Fri, Dec 24, 2021.