First 3D pterosaur eggs found with their parents

Jun 05, 2014
This image depicts ecological reconstructions of Hamipterus. Credit: Chuang Zhao

Researchers have discovered the first three-dimensionally preserved pterosaur eggs in China. The eggs were found among dozens, if not hundreds, of pterosaur fossils, representing a new genus and species (Hamipterus tianshanensis). The discovery, described in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 5, reveals that the pterosaurs—flying reptiles with wingspans ranging from 25 cm to 12 m—lived together in gregarious colonies.

Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology says it was most exciting to find many male and female pterosaurs and their eggs preserved together. "Five eggs are three-dimensionally preserved, and some are really complete," he says.

The fossil record of the pterosaurs has generally been poor, with little information about their populations, the researchers say. Prior to this latest find, only four isolated and flattened pterosaur eggs were known to science.

The resting place of the pterosaurs now described was first uncovered in 2005 in the Turpan-Hami Basin, south of the Tian Shan Mountains in Xinjiang, northwestern China. The fossil-rich area may harbor thousands of bones, including three-dimensional male and female skulls and the first three-dimensional eggs. Wang says that sediments in the area suggest that the pterosaurs died in a large storm about 120 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous period.

This image is a reconstruction of a male Hamipterus. Credit: Chuang Zhao

The researchers examined the largely intact pterosaur egg specimens to find that they were pliable, with a thin, calcareous eggshell outside and a soft, thick membrane inside, similar to the eggs of some modern-day snakes. The researchers' observations of 40 male and female individuals suggest differences between the sexes in the size, shape, and robustness of their head crests.

The combination of many pterosaurs and eggs strongly indicates the presence of a nesting site nearby and indicates that this species developed gregarious behavior, the researchers say. Hamipterus most likely buried their in sand along the shore of an ancient lake to prevent them from drying out. While the new fossils shed light on the reproductive strategy, development, and behavior of , there is still plenty left to learn about them.

First 3-D pterosaur eggs found with their parents
This is the first three dimensionally preserved pterosaur egg. Credit: Maurilio Oliveira

"Sites like the one reported here provide further evidence regarding the behavior and biology of this amazing group of flying reptiles that has no parallel in modern time," the researchers write.

Explore further: Oldest pterodactyloid species discovered, named by international team of researchers

More information: Current Biology, Wang et al.: "Sexually dimorphic tridimensionally preserved pterosaurs and their eggs from China." http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)00525-9

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dino-era sex riddle solved by new fossil find

Jan 20, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The discovery of an ancient fossil, nicknamed 'Mrs T', has allowed scientists for the first time to sex pterodactyls – flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs between 220-65 million ...

Findings show ancient birds died in flash flood

Nov 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- During a presentation at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's 71st annual Meeting in Las Vegas, researchers Gareth Dyke and Darren Naish from the University of Southampton presented their findings of ...

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

New branch added to European family tree

Sep 17, 2014

The setting: Europe, about 7,500 years ago. Agriculture was sweeping in from the Near East, bringing early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had already been living in Europe for tens of thousands ...

User comments : 0