Dinosaur Embryo Returned To China, But Many Fossils Fall Victim To Illegal Trade And Poor Protection

Fossilised dinosaur eggs in nests, uncovered by a raid on illegal fossils in 2004. John Long , Author provided

Danielle Andrew 22 May 2017, 20:14

China’s record of life’s past history on Earth is second to none. The Conversation

The country is famous especially for the excellent preservation of the 130 million year old feathered dinosaurs and early birds from Liaoning Province. These specimens have reframed the narrative about how birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.

China has also long been famous for its abundance of fossil dinosaur egg localities.

A recent study just published reveals that a well-preserved nest of the largest known dinosaur eggs, called “Macroelongatoolithus” from Henan Province, contains a complete skeleton of a dinosaur new to science, Beibeilong.

It’s a case that brings a stark reminder that incredible scientific findings rely not only on careful and ethical research activities among scientists across the world, but also on governments that value scientific heritage.

New dinosaur revealed in returned fossil

An artist’s rendition, showing the approximate size of the Beibeilong embryo inside a Macroelongatoolithus egg. Vladimir Rimbala/Nature Communications, CC BY
An artist’s rendition, showing the approximate size of the Beibeilong embryo inside a Macroelongatoolithus egg. Vladimir Rimbala/Nature Communications, CC BY

The Macroelongatoolithus fossil, first uncovered back in late 1992 or early 1993, became famous when it made the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1996, and the baby dinosaur was dubbed “Baby Louis” after photographer Louis Psihoyos.

The new research links this 23cm long curled dinosaur embryo to a strange clade of dinosaurs named caenognathids. It is new dinosaur, named Beibeilong, meaning “baby dragon”.

The adults of this group were large, toothless forms with short curve beaks, perhaps best represented by closely related forms like Oviraptor. They looked more like giant zombie parrots than your run-of-the-mill dinosaur.

Other oviraptosaurs have been found in China with complete coverings of feathers on the body, and sporting large expanded tail feathers (Caudipteryx).

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