Palaeontologists discover over 200 fossilized eggs of flying reptiles in China


Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at a site in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They report that one of the eggs had a hatchling that was at least 2 years old, which supports a previous hypothesis: Pterosaurs need to develop in the egg for longer periods of time, similar to how human babies develop in the womb for nine months.

A treasure trove of ancient eggs - 215 to be exact - exposes how flying reptiles called pterosaurs developed in infanthood and how parents took care of their young. The pterosaurs in this case probably lived in a busy colony near what was then a large freshwater lake.

An worldwide team of paleontologists has discovered a fossil-rich site with more than 200 fossilized eggs of the Cretaceous pterosaur species Hamipterus tianshanensis in China. We still don't know if the eggs were buried in sand or vegetation or why they appeared dehydrated.

More than 200 fossilized eggs and 16 embryos at different stages of growth were found in the Gobi Desert in northwestern China. Until now, scientists had found some pterosaur eggs with remains inside, including three in Argentina and five in China.

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Dr. Xiaolin Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues from China and Brazil used CT scanning to peer inside the eggs, 16 of which contain embryonic remains of varying intactness.

This find adds to recent discoveries of soft Darwinopterus pterosaur eggs and hundreds of Caiuajara pterosaur fossils.

As the waters raged on that ancient Chinese lake, numerous pterosaur eggs split open, letting in sediments that ultimately preserved their oblong shapes. Although most eggs are complete, small fissures resulting from decomposition and compression during burial must have occurred because all eggs are filled with sandstone, which ultimately accounts for their three-dimensionality.

"We want to find more eggs to make a much more detailed picture of embryonic development", Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist with Laboratório de Sistemática e Tafonomia de Vertebrados Fósseis, told Newsweek. Only a handful of isolated occurrences of eggs and embryos have been reported so far.

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Since at least some other pterosaur embryos possess teeth, this might indicate that the Hamipterus embryos are of an earlier developmental stage, before tooth development.

"It is important to note that while the wings were less mature than the bones of the thighs in some respects, the wing bones are still much more robust than the bones of the hind limbs", Habib said.

Denis Charles Deeming, a palaeontologist from the University of Lincoln in England who wrote an adjoining article in Science about the findings, said he was surprised by the sheer number of eggs that were all collected together in one place.

One of the key contributions of the study was to discover how, at birth, the reptiles had wing bones less developed than their leg bones, leading experts to conclude that they could not fly until they had gotten somewhat older. Thanks to the hard work of paleontologists, we are starting to develop a good understanding of the entire life history, from before hatching to death, of these fascinating creatures. Others boasted wild and insane crests, which may have been used to attract the opposite sex, as has been suggested with H. tianshanensis.

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