Recently, a nearly-perfectly intact dinosaur embryo was found inside a fossilized egg. Here's what the surprising discovery tells us about the ancient reptiles and their evolution.
The fossilized egg was found in the southern city of Ganzhou, China. After researchers discovered it, the artifact was stored under the ownership of Liang Liu, director of Yingliang Group. "During the construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in the 2010s, museum staff sorted through the storage and discovered the specimens," shared Professor Lida Xing of China University. "Fossil preparation was conducted and eventually unveiled the embryo hidden inside the egg." The scientific community is elated by the ancient embryo, named Baby Yingliang, as it gives a glimpse into an unknown part of the dinosaur lifecycle.
As Fion Waisum, a Ph.D. researcher involved with the ongoing project, explained, "Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils, and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated." Researchers estimate that Baby Yingliang dates back to the late Cretaceous, making it roughly 66 to 72 million years old. Experts have identified the embryo as a theropod dinosaur called oviraptorosaur. This dinosaur might be older than anyone on earth, but its position inside the ancient egg is actually quite similar to that of a modern animal still around today.
"It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviors," explained Fion Waisum Ma, a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Birmingham. "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."
Professor Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh added, "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."
You can read the researchers' full report published by the University of Birmingham here.