Scientists recently uncovered the largest group of fossilized pterosaur eggs ever. In a 10-foot-long sandstone block in northwest China, they came across 215 eggs – 16 of which have embryonic remains. Discoveries of pterosaur eggs are exceedingly rare. The only previous discoveries with an intact embryo and well-preserved 3D structure include three in Argentina and five in China, so researchers around the world are especially thrilled with this latest find.
Pterosaurs may have been around on Earth up to 225 million years ago, but vanished with the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. This new discovery of pterosaur eggs from the species Hamipterus tianshanensis reveals the reptiles – the first creatures following insects to evolve powered flight – actually couldn’t soar right away after they were born, requiring care from parents. Paleontologist Alexander Kellner of the Museu Nacional at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro told AFP, “Since these are extremely fragile fossils, we were very surprised to find so many in the same place. Because of this discovery, we can talk about the behavior of these animals for the first time.”
The eggs are an estimated 120 million years old, from pterosaurs that as adults would have been around four-feet-tall with an 11-foot wingspan. Researchers unearthed partial skull and wing bones, and even one entire lower jaw, filling in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the pterosaur life cycle. The baby pterosaurs would have had functional hind legs not too long after hatching, but weak chest muscles. Kellner said they “could walk but not fly…This is one of the biggest discoveries we have made.”
Scientists also found some adult pterosaur bones in the vicinity, leading them to think adult pterosaurs may have come back to the same nesting spots.
The journal Science published the work this month. 17 scientists from institutions in China and Brazil contributed; paleontologist Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences led the study. He said there could be as many as 300 eggs at the excavation site – there appear to be some buried beneath the exposed ones.