AN international team of scientists discovered the fossilised nest of an oviraptor from 70 million years ago in China.
In this amazing find, the medium-sized adult oviraptor is crouching over two dozen eggs, of which seven were close to hatching and still contain the embryos, thus preserving eight separate dinosaurs.
The specimen was recovered from the Nanxiong Formation of Ganzhou in South China and the adult could have died guarding or laying the eggs.
The discovery of such a scene has never been seen before and shows how dinosaurs incubated their eggs, in this case, the oviraptor, which was a theropod somewhat similar to an ostrich.
“This kind of discovery – in essence, fossilized behaviour – is the rarest of the rare in dinosaurs,” says palaeontologist Matt Lamanna from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH).
Similar scenes have been found before, but never with the embryos still in the eggs. In fact, the area where this discovery was made is famous for harbouring the world’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur eggs.
The study published in the Science Bulletin reveals that in at least seven of the eggs, embryonic material was found, including ossified bones in identifiable shapes.
One of the eggs may actually contain a complete curled up skeleton.
“This dinosaur was a caring parent that ultimately gave its life while nurturing its young” explains Lamanna.
Not all of the embryos were at the same stages of development, suggesting that they would have hatched at different times, something which was not believed to have started until later in the evolutionary process in some types of birds. This suggests that although oviraptors are often thought to be a stage between dinosaurs and modern birds, the evolution of bird reproduction was not linear and oviraptors moved away from hatching simultaneously.
The sex of the fossilised oviraptor may be male, suggesting that the father took part in brooding like modern day ostriches that take turns in sitting on the eggs.
“We’re going to be learning from this specimen for many years to come” says palaeontologist Xing Xu from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.
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