Fossil Sense: Discovering a Perfectly Preserved Dinosaur Embryo

fossil sensation
A perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo has been discovered

A dinosaur egg dumped in the basement of the Natural History Museum ten years ago. When cleaning, researchers become familiar with the body. How amazing the fossil is when you open the egg.

Twenty-one years after the discovery of a fossil dinosaur egg in southern China’s Ganzhou province, researchers have taken a closer look at the contents – and made a startling discovery: Inside the egg is the amazingly preserved skeleton of a dinosaur embryo.

The head of a Chinese quarry company acquired the egg about 17 cm in size at the turn of the millennium, but then it was forgotten in a warehouse. It wasn’t until ten years later that the ancient stocks were discovered due to construction work, when employees of the company’s Yingliang Stone Museum of Natural History identified several fossils as dinosaur eggs and discovered the now-examined bones in one of them.

The unborn dinosaur is sitting in the egg with its head between its wings. This reminds us of the chicks of the day before they hatch.

(Photo: imago images/VCG)

An extraordinary discovery, as a Chinese-British-Canadian research team quickly realized. Dinosaur embryos are among the rarest, if often incomplete, fossils of all. Scientists now have their investigations in the specialized journal iScience Foot. It looks like the baby Oviraptosaurus, a 66-72 million-year-old named ‘Baby Yinglian’, is about to hatch. He took a flexed position, which was previously known only to birds.

Researchers are now wondering if this behavior evolved during the Cretaceous period between 145 and 66 million years ago in the dinosaurs known as theropods, from which birds later emerged. Laying a dinosaur before birth is very similar to laying a hen’s chicks just before hatching. When stretched, the fetus should measure approximately 27 cm from head to end of tail.

“We are delighted to discover ‘Baby Yingliang’ – it is in excellent condition and helps us answer many questions about the growth and reproduction of dinosaurs,” wrote Fion Weisom Ma of the University of Birmingham.

“The dinosaur embryo in its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I’ve ever seen,” says fellow research fellow Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh. “It’s like a little bird wrapped in its egg.” Further evidence that many of the distinguishing features of today’s birds first evolved in the ancestors of dinosaurs,” says Brusatte.

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