A fossilized dinosaur egg was found more than 66 million years ago containing an embryo inside, and international researchers say the discovery creates a link between dinosaurs and modern-day birds.
A fossilized dinosaur egg was found in 2000 in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province in southern China by Yingliang Group, a stone mining company. Company workers suspected they were likely dinosaur fossils, so they were hoarded.
It wasn’t until the company began building the Yingliang Stone Museum of Natural History in 2010 when museum staff members were going through storage and found the fossils, noting the bones inside the egg. After scientists began examining the fossils, they said that one of the eggs contained an embryo they named “Baby Yingliang.”
Their findings were Published in the peer-reviewed journal iScience on Tuesday.
“Dinosaur embryos are among the rarest of fossils, most of them incomplete with dislocated bones. We are very excited to discover ‘Baby Yingliang,'” Fion Waisum Ma, study author and researcher at the University of Birmingham in England, said. He said in a statement. “It is well preserved and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction.”
The dinosaur, a aviraptorosaurus, is closely related to birds and part of the therapod group. Therapods were carnivorous dinosaurs with small front limbs that walked on two legs, as were other creatures in that group such as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.
But the distinguishing feature that scientists have noticed about the fetus is that it shares a very similar position to birds before hatching, something that is thought to be unique in the animal kingdom.
With the fetus of aviraptorosaurs, researchers say it was in a flexed position, with the feet on the side of its head and its back on the shell. Today, birds remain in their position before hatching, and if they do not, they have a greater chance of dying before or at birth.
This dinosaur did not fly, making it the first time a tucking mode has been observed in a non-avian animal. The findings suggest that modern bird hatching practices may have come from non-flying dinosaurs hundreds of millions of years ago. The estimated age of the fetus is between 66 and 72 million years.
“It’s exciting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo forming in a similar way inside the egg, which may indicate similar behaviors before hatching,” Wisom Ma said. “This position has not been recognized in dinosaurs other than birds before.”
The fetus will undergo further evaluation in an effort to understand its anatomy and learn more about dinosaur embryos, as well as learn more about how dinosaurs and birds are related today.
“This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is among the most beautiful I have ever seen,” said co-author and paleontologist Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This tiny prenatal dinosaur looked just like a little bird curled up in its egg, which is further evidence that many of the distinguishing features of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
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