Sixty-six million years ago, some dinosaurs laid eggs- many were hatched and some not. A few progenies could have developed full-grown, while some could have died. This is not a line from science fiction or a story of another Jurassic Park; explorers have found evidence of it. Scientists have announced a fascinating discovery of a perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo that was just about to hatch from its egg, like a chicken. The embryo has been discovered in Ganzhou of Southern China, and the estimation says that the embryo is about 66 million years old.
Scientists believe that the embryo was of a toothless theropod dinosaur or oviraptorosaur, and it has been named Baby Yingliang. Hundreds of dinosaur eggs could have been discovered over the years, but archaeologists have rarely found one with a fetus with a fully developed bone structure. Scientist from China, UK and Canada involved in the exploration published their finding in the journal iScience on December 21.
Dr Fion Waisum Ma, a corresponding author of the study from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK, said that this is the best dinosaur embryo that has ever been found in history. This finding brings excitement for dinosaur researchers across the world.
New Light on Evolution of Birds:
The discovery in Southern China has led the team of international researchers to find new elements that challenge the existing theories about hatching by birds. The scientist found that the fetus's position was precisely similar to what is found in modern-day birds. This positional aspect enables the fetus to break out of its shells. The posture of the fetus is commonly known as 'tucking', which has the characteristic of folding the legs on either side of the head with the back curling along the large end of the egg. This has led scientists to rethink the hatching technique of birds.
It has been believed that the tucking posture in the pre-hatching period is unique to birds. But the new discovery has led scientists to think that the hatching technique adopted by modern birds may have an evolutionary root in dinosaurs like the oviraptorosaur. This Latin word means 'egg thief lizards' in English. This species used to roam in the continents of Asia and North America during the 'Cretaceous' period—100 million to 66 million years ago- was known for its unique beak resembling parrots.
Stephen Brusatte, one of the authors of the study belonging to the School of GeoSciences of the University of Edinburgh, commented on the finding, saying, "This 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."
The newest fossil Baby Yingliang measured 27 centimetres from head to tail and was compacted inside an egg of 6.7-inch length. The fossil is now in the Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum in China.
This was first discovered in 2000 and has been stored for a decade, just like any other dinosaur fossilised egg. But, due to construction work in the museum, old fossils were sorted through. It is when scientists got their attention on the egg and suspected that it held an embryo inside.
Researchers are still studying it as part of the body is still covered by rock. They plan to use advanced imaging techniques to create an image of the entire skeleton.