A dinosaur embryo perfectly curled up in its fossilized egg was analyzed by a team of researchers in southeastern China.
The fossil, which is thought to be between 72 and 66 million years old, belongs to an oviraptorosaur, an omnivorous theropod with a beak that lived in what is now Asia and North America during the Cretaceous Period.
Researchers published their findings in the journal Science. The embryo’s length from head to tail was estimated to be 27 centimeters (11 inches). The dinosaur, which would have consumed vegetation, would have grown to be 2-3 meters (79-118 inches) long, according to researchers.
The embryo was close to hatching as evidenced by its “tucking” posture, a behavior seen in modern birds. When a chick is about to hatch, it tucks its head beneath its right wing for support while it uses its beak to shatter the shell.
Theropods are two-legged dinosaurs that directly predate modern birds. Theropods include, among others, the Velociraptor, Spinosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus rex.
What the experts are saying: The fossil turned out to be one of the greatest dinosaur embryos ever discovered, the researchers told AFP, due to its entire anatomy. They called the creature “Baby Yingliang” after Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum, its current location.
“This skeleton is not only complete from the tip of the snout to the end of its tail; it is curled in a life pose within its egg as if the animal died just yesterday,” study co-author Darla Zelenitsky, an assistant professor of paleontology at the University of Calgary, told Live Science.
Lead author Waisum Ma, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Birmingham, said dinosaur embryos happen to be some of the rarest fossils.
“Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated,” Ms Ma said.
“We are very excited about the discovery of “Baby Yingliang” — it is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it.”
“It’s intriguing to observe how this dino embryo and a chicken embryo both hold itself in the egg similarly, which may imply comparable prehatching behaviors.”
“This dinosaur embryo was acquired by the director of Yingliang Group, Mr Liang Liu, as suspected egg fossils around the year 2000,” said paper author and palaeontologist Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing.
“During the construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in the 2010s, museum staff sorted through the storage and discovered the specimens.”
“These specimens were identified as dinosaur egg fossils. Fossil preparation was conducted and eventually unveiled the embryo hidden inside the egg.”
“This is how “Baby Yingliang” was brought to light.”