Perfectly preserved ‘rare’ dinosaur embryo provides stunning science breakthrough

Dinosaurs: Fossil shows 'different appearance' says expert

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Researchers working in China found a 66-million-year-old dinosaur embryo, since dubbed ‘Baby Yingliang’. Now, the perfectly preserved Oviraptorosaur fossil is helping to forge a link between modern birds and dinosaur behaviours. Baby Yingliang is one of the most complete dinosaurs ever found, and suggests that these dinosaurs developed postures similar to birds when they were close to hatching.

A joint study from the University of Birmingham and China University of Geosciences saw scientists publish key findings about the embryo.

Most important of all their research was detail on the dinosaurs’ pre-hatching posture.

The fossil shows that the embryo was in a curled up position — similar to that of modern birth embryos.

This was a behaviour previously unrecognised in dinosaurs.

But, for modern birds, it is simply known as “hatching”.

It is controlled by the central nervous system and is critical for a successful hatching.

Until the research surrounding Baby Yingliang was published, the posture was thought to be unique to birds.

Scientists involved in the study now strongly believe that it may have originated among non-avian theropods — a type of dinosaur.

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The posture is vital to a bird’s survival, as those that do not adopt it have a higher chance of death due to unsuccessful hatching.

Despite the scientific advancements in the study of animals, this type of discovery is almost unprecedented due to the typically poor condition of dinosaur fossils.

Fion Waisum, the joint first author and PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham, told BBC Science Focus magazine just how special the discovery was.

She said: “Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated.

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“We are very excited about the discovery of ‘Baby Yingliang ‒ it is preserved in great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it.”

Luckily for Ms Wasium and her colleagues, the embryo was mostly undisrupted and spared by the wearing process of time, and was captured in its live position.

It is estimated to be around 27 centimetres long from head to tail, and was identified as an Oviraptorosaur (which means ‘egg thief lizard’) based on its deep, toothless skull.

These are feathered dinosaurs that are closely related to modern-day birds.

Their inconsistent beak shapes and body sizes meant they likely adopted a wide range of diets ‒ herbivory, omnivory and carnivory.

The team, by comparing the perfectly preserved embryo with similar dinosaur embryos, were able to produce the proposal that tucking behaviour first originated in theropod dinosaurs tens or hundreds of millions of years ago.

Similar discoveries are now needed to further test this hypothesis.

Professor Steve Brusatte, part of the research team from University of Edinburgh said the study suggested that there was now a stronger link between dinosaurs and modern birds than ever before.

He told Science Focus: “This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen.

“This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”

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