Published: Sun, December 03, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Pterosaur hatchlings needed their parents, trove of eggs reveals

Pterosaur hatchlings needed their parents, trove of eggs reveals

Hundreds of pterosaur eggs in one place is impressive, but Unwin said we'd need more evidence to demonstrate another suggestion in the paper: that this species of pterosaur was a communal nester, like penguins.

The pterosaurs were an order of flying reptiles that went extinct some 66 million years ago.

Researchers have reported the discovery of hundreds of prehistoric eggs in China that were laid by pterosaurs, the world's first flying vertebrates that appeared before the birds and bats. According to the researchers these creatures lived near a large freshwater lake and the fossils of the creatures (along with the eggs), were washed into the lake where they were preserved and later turned into fossils.

Most eggs were collected from white to gray, middle- to fine-grained sandstones that were deposited in a fluvio-lacustrine environment where mudstone pellets and localized lenses of mudstone are present, suggesting that events of high energy such as storms have passed over a nesting site, which might have caused the eggs to be moved inside the lake where they floated for a short period of time, becoming concentrated and eventually buried along with disarticulated skeletons. Pterosaurs were the first ever vertebrates to take to the skies - though why, how, and for how long they did this, remain unsolved mysteries. This includes the species in question, Hamipterus tianshanensis, which Kellner, Wang and a team of their colleagues discovered in 2014. And of those, paleontologists have just six three-dimensional eggs - that is, eggs not completely flattened by millions of years of being crushed under younger sediments.

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Five of the eggs were also found in the Turpan-Hami Basin in northwestern China.

"The site is in the Gobi desert, and there are strong winds, a lot of sand, with few plants and animals", says study coauthor Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The new paper announced the discovery of a fantastic treasure trove of fossils and at least 215 Hamipterus tianshanensis pterosaur eggs in China.

Hamipterus not only fed in this long-lost paradise, it also bred there, likely burying clutches of eggs in vegetation or on shorelines.

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Two of the newfound pterosaur eggs. There may be even more of them, but scientists haven't had time to properly analyze all the eggs, and CT scans are only partially useful.

As the waters raged on that ancient Chinese lake, numerous pterosaur eggs split open, letting in sediments that ultimately preserved their oblong shapes.

From these embryos, the scientists could see that the structures supporting the pectoral muscles - crucial for flight - were noticeably underdeveloped.

The 16 fossilized embryos are at different stages of growth, revealing new information about how the reptiles developed. Others boasted wild and insane crests, which may have been used to attract the opposite sex, as has been suggested with H. tianshanensis.

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An accompanying article in the journal Science, written by D. Charles Deeming of the University of Lincoln, called the study "remarkable for the number of eggs in association with adults and juvenile pterosaurs that it reports on". But with paleontologists working more and more on the case, it only seems like only a matter of time now. But this is the first find that indicates pterosaurs nested together as well. The skull roof was not well ossified before the animal hatched, and no teeth were found in any of the embryos.

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