Dazzling Egg Fossils Crack Open Secrets of Ancient Flying Reptiles

Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs

Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at a site in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. But about 65 million years ago, at the time when dinosaurs went extinct, pterosaurs went extinct as well.

Along with bats and birds, pterosaurs are the only vertebrates to truly fly.

A storm likely washed the eggs and other pterosaurs into a nearby lake, where they were fossilized.

Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs

While fossils of Pterosaurs have been discovered earlier as well, what makes this discovery even more special is that this is the first time that the eggs of pterosaurs have been found with their embryos well preserved. Like birds, they laid eggs, gathered food and fed their flightless offspring.

The partial remains of pterosaur embryos were found in 16 of the eggs, allow scientists to examine the beasties in unprecedented detail.

That's how paleontologists are reacting to the discovery of several hundred ridiculously well-preserved pterosaur eggs in China, some of them still containing the remains of embryos. 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. If pterosaurs hatched without teeth, then the young reptiles may have needed additional care or help with feeding. In recent years, palaeontologists discovered five eggs from China and one egg from Argentina.

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"We want to call this region "Pterosaur Eden, ' " said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences" Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The species that laid the recently discovered eggs is known as Hamipterus tianshanensis. There may be even more of them, but scientists haven't had time to properly analyze all the eggs, and CT scans are only partially useful.

The embryonic bones showed that the hind legs of the baby Hamipterus developed faster than crucial wing elements such the humerus bones. 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. One embryo, which the team classified as the most mature, had partially developed wings and skull bones, as well as a complete lower jaw. Only a handful of isolated occurrences of eggs and embryos have been reported so far.

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As the waters raged on that ancient Chinese lake, numerous pterosaur eggs split open, letting in sediments that ultimately preserved their oblong shapes.

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. Others boasted wild and insane crests, which may have been used to attract the opposite sex, as has been suggested with H. tianshanensis.

The discovery could help paleontologists understand how pterosaurs reproduced and nested. The seemingly weak arms came as a surprise, because many paleontologists thought that pterosaurs were fliers almost straight out of the egg. Number two: "I wish we would find eggs in situ-that means 'not moved.' We would learn a lot from that". 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.

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