Researchers uncover mystery of missing dinosaur eggs in fossil record

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CALGARY – Researchers believe they have unraveled the mystery of why fossilized eggs from only a few types of dinosaurs were found.An article published Wednesday in the journal Nature suggests that the missing eggs in the fossil record may have been soft, like those of a turtle, rather than hard, like those of a bird.

One of the study’s authors, paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary, said that many fossilized egg shells have been found for some bird-like meat-eating dinosaurs as well as some fish eaters. long neck and duckbill plants.

The eggs of other dinosaurs – especially more primitive species – were notably absent.

“Over the years, we certainly thought that dinosaurs may have laid soft-shelled eggs. Others have gone so far as to nurture the idea of ​​live birth, “said Zelenitsky, a specialist in dinosaur eggs and nesting sites.

“But there was no fossil evidence, in addition to the closest living relatives of the dinosaurs – crocodiles and birds – all lay hard-shell eggs. It goes without saying that dinosaurs also lay only hard-shelled eggs. ”

The international research team examined egg laying discovered in Mongolia and Argentina with an unusual thin halo surrounding the fossilized embryos.

The Mongolian eggs, which were oval and up to 15 centimeters long, belonged to a horned dinosaur estimated between 71 million and 74 million years ago. This species, Protoceratops, is an ancestor of the dinosaurs discovered in Alberta which would have also laid soft eggs.

Zelenitsky said this could be the reason why, after 30 years of finding eggs in Alberta, no hard-shelled eggs belonging to large horned dinosaurs were found there.

“They can be hidden in the fossil record as soft, less discreet, thin-shelled eggs. ”

The 12-centimeter-wide spherical eggs found in Argentina belonged to a small, long-necked dinosaur called Mussaurus and are 200 million years old.

Study co-author Jasmina Wiemann, a doctoral candidate at Yale University, used cutting-edge technology to examine the molecular composition of fossils without damaging them.

She was able to determine that the halos seen in the fossils were not thinner hard shells than usual, but a material that was probably “spongy and leathery in nature.”

“For a long time, we thought that soft tissue generally couldn’t fossilize,” she said.

“We have made a lot of progress in understanding that soft tissue actually keeps quite often, but it doesn’t always look like what we would expect. ”

Wiemann said scientists also have a better understanding of where the best-preserved soft-shell egg fossils are found, such as in river sediments, and how to prepare fragile specimens so they don’t get damaged .

“You must be determined to wait for something like this. Otherwise, you will not pick it up on the ground, ”she said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we found many more soft tissue dinosaur eggs in the future, potentially in our collections, already there waiting. ”

Matteo Fabbri, another Yale researcher who contributed to the article, said it appears that dinosaurs started with soft-shelled eggs and hard shells evolved independently in certain types of dinosaurs later.

Hard-shelled eggs date back to the mid-Jurassic from 164 million to 170 million years ago, but the majority of the specimens are Cretaceous, which ended 66 million years ago.

Everything that happened earlier, Fabbri said, has been a “black hole”.

“We now know that the first dinosaurs were much more reptilian in terms of reproductive biology,” he said.

“This is a complete change of perspective. ”

This Canadian Press report was first published on June 17, 2020

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