Scientists announced on Tuesday (21) the discovery of a perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo, dating back at least 66 million years and preparing to hatch.
The fossil was found in the city of Ganzhou, southern China, and it belongs to a toothless theropod, or Oviraptosaurus, that scientists named “Baby Yingliang”.
“It’s one of the best dinosaur embryos ever found,” University of Birmingham researcher Fionne Weissum Ma, who co-authored the publication in iScience, told AFP.
Ma and his colleagues found the fetus with its head tucked under its body, feet on both sides, and a curved back, a position not seen before in dinosaurs but similar to that of modern birds.
In birds, this behavior is controlled by the central nervous system and is called “folding”. Chicks prepare to hatch and place their heads under the right wing to keep them stable while they break their shells with their beaks.
Fetuses that fail to take this position are more likely to die from a failed orifice.
“This indicates that such behavior in modern birds evolved first among the ancestors of dinosaurs,” Ma said.
An alternative to this fold could be similar to what modern crocodiles do. They position themselves as if they are sitting, with their head bent toward their chest, to hatch.
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Ovirraptorosaurs, or “egg-stealing lizards,” were feathered dinosaurs that lived in what is now Asia and North America during the late Cretaceous period.
They had different types of beaks and diets, and their size ranged from the size of a modern turkey to the gigantic gigantoraptor, eight meters long.
The ‘Yingliang Baby’ is 27 cm long from head to tail and is housed inside a 17 cm egg at the Yingliang Stone Museum of Natural History.
Researchers believe the creature is between 66 and 72 million years old and could likely have been preserved when the egg was buried by a flood, protecting it from carrion for a long time.
It would have reached two or three meters in length if it had reached adulthood and would have likely fed on plants.
The specimen is one of many egg fossils that have been forgotten in a deposit for decades.
The team of scientists suspected that it might contain dinosaurs yet to be born, and they scraped part of the egg to find the fetus inside.
“This dinosaur embryo inside this egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I’ve ever seen,” Steve Brusatte, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the research team, said in a statement.
He continued, “This small dinosaur in its prenatal state closely resembles a small bird draped in its egg, providing further evidence that many characteristics of today’s birds evolved from their dinosaur ancestors.”
Scientists hope to study the “baby Yingliang” in more detail by using advanced scanning techniques to map its entire skeleton, including the bones of its skull, because part of its body is still covered in rocks.
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