Published: Sun, December 03, 2017
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Treasure Trove of eggs reveals: Pterosaur infants required their parents

Treasure Trove of eggs reveals: Pterosaur infants required their parents

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at a site in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Although they weren't related to the dinosaurs, they lived alongside them, shared certain similarities, and went extinct at about the same time as them.

The palaeontologists who made the discovery note both the "extraordinary quantity of eggs", and the fact some of them contain "the first pterosaur three-dimensional embryos".

"Among the behavioural characteristics of these animals that we discovered is that they formed nesting colonies, where several families came to the same sites to lay their eggs and always returned to these areas, implying that they were areas favourable for nest-building". According to the new research, a site in China's Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang has coughed up 215 lovely, pliable and miraculously three-dimensional eggs - 16 of which contain embryonic remains. How they did what they did, and did it for as long as they did, is just one of the mysteries he and his colleagues hope to solve.

Pterosaurs were large, ferocious-looking reptiles with wingspans up to 13 feet and teeth-filled jaws, NPR said, and they lived during the Lower Cretaceous period alongside dinosaurs.

To date, only 11 pterosaur eggs have been found, three of which have fossilized embryos inside. The researchers suggest this means that Hamipterus hatchlings were incapable of flight, contradicting the common idea of "flaplings", that the youngest pterosaurs could fly immediately. Pterodactyl is most famous pterosaur, but it's a diverse group, including animals from the size of seagulls to the size of small planes. Three-dimensionally preserved eggs include one from Argentina and five reported from the Turpan-Hami Basin, Xinjiang, northwestern China in 2014.

"We want to call this region 'Pterosaur Eden, '" paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Reuters.

Hundreds of pterosaur bones laying on the surface demonstrating the richness of these sites.   Alexander Kellner
Hundreds of pterosaur bones laying on the surface demonstrating the richness of these sites. Alexander Kellner

The new paper announced the discovery of a fantastic treasure trove of fossils and at least 215 Hamipterus tianshanensis pterosaur eggs in China. This is likely why the investigators found the eggs in sandstone sediments.

Example of fossilized pterosaur eggs.

In the preliminary findings in the site, Rio de Janeiro Museu Nacional paleontologist Alexander Kellner remarked that the bones indicated that the hind legs of baby Hamipterus developed faster than the crucial wing element like the humerus bone.

As the waters raged on that ancient Chinese lake, numerous pterosaur eggs split open, letting in sediments that ultimately preserved their oblong shapes. Each embryo varied in its stage of development, but all the eggs had well-developed thigh bones and underdeveloped pectoral muscles.

The team also discovered that these embryos lacked teeth at this stage of development.

"I think they have a good argument, [and] it's an interesting result", says University of Southern California paleontologist Mike Habib, an expert on reconstructing how pterosaurs moved. But with paleontologists working more and more on the case, it only seems like only a matter of time now. For starters, he said, the embryos in question were likely only halfway done growing, so they would have developed more before they hatched out. But this is the first find that indicates pterosaurs nested together as well.

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