Research

Paleontologists Find Cache of 215 Pterosaur Eggs in China

Paleontologists Find Cache of 215 Pterosaur Eggs in China

The discovery is reported in the journal Science. The fact that these flying reptiles laid eggs wasn't confirmed until 2004, when researchers announced that they had found two pterosaur eggs in China and one egg in Argentina that held well-developed embryos, according to D. Charles Deeming, a principal lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, who wrote a perspective on the new study, but wasn't involved with the new research. "These animals would weigh just a few grams when hatched, and nearly certainly didn't need crisply sculpted, well-ossified wing bones to fly", he says. But enough is preserved to allow comparisons between the bones in the embryos and those of older pterosaurs also preserved, says Alexander Kellner of the National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, who helped analyze the fossils.

Such a massive collection of ancient eggs is a rare find.

But the latest report in the peer-reviewed USA journal Science is based on the biggest collection to date - 215 fossilised eggs that were found in a 10-foot (three-meter) long sandstone block in northwestern China's Hami City, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

"We know there are more eggs and embryos in the field, and we will spend much more time in studying this incredible pterosaur", Wang said. It also had a thin yet hard outer layer and marked by cracking. The researchers speculate that when a sudden rain flooded a river, hundreds of pterosaur eggs buried in shallow sand or under a layer of leaves or grass were drowned and washed downstream, along with a number of older individuals.

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

"Then of course we have to find the fossils in the first place".

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

Pterosaur
Paleontologists Find Cache of 215 Pterosaur Eggs in China

By studying the unearthed fossilized eggs, including 16 that contained embryonic remains, scientists were able to develop some theories about different developmental stages of the flying creature.

Incomplete pterosaur lower jaw of a young animal. Little ones had less developed characteristics related to flight, which is why the researchers think they were probably unable to take off.

All the long bones from the wings and legs showed signs of ossification, the process of laying down the minerals to form bones, but the ends of wing bones were not fully formed or mineralized.

"However, the structure supporting the pectoral muscle appears to be underdeveloped during the embryonic stage, suggesting that newborns were likely not able to fly". That suggests, Kellner says, that pterosaurs could walk when they hatched, but not fly. It also provides the first solid evidence that, like many dinosaur species, these animals nested in groups.

The large quantities of eggs, together with bones and other specimens, indicated the now extinct animals participated in colonial nesting behavior, Wang said. The lack of other skull bones suggests the skull developed later than other bones in the skeleton.

The eggs themselves had soft, parchment-like shells. Our understanding of several biological questions, including their ontogenetic development and reproductive strategy for pterosaurs is very limited.

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