In southern China, palaeontologists from the University of Birmingham discovered an exceptionally rare preserved dinosaur embryo curled up inside a fossilised egg.
The embryo, which is in excellent condition, is thought to be 72 million years old. The embryo was discovered beneath the rocks of the ‘Hekou Formation’ at the Shahe Industrial Park in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province, and was given the name ‘Baby Yingliang’ (from the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in Xiamen).
The embryo belonged to a toothless beaked theropod, also known as oviraptorosaurs, according to palaeontologists. They claim that this is the most complete dinosaur embryo yet discovered.
The embryo has a posture that is similar to that of birds in the embryonic stage of development. In fact, it resembles that of birds more than that of other dinosaurs.
According to the research, the creature appeared to be on the verge of hatching, with its head below its body, back curved under the egg’s blunt end, and feet positioned on either side. The oviraptorosaurs, which developed inside a 6.7-inch long egg, could have been roughly 10.6 inches long from head to tail.
This entire position resembles that of a bird’s ‘tucking,’ which is a critical embryonic behaviour controlled by the central nervous system to promote proper hatching.
The fact that Baby Yingliang is in this position suggests that this pose may have developed in non-avian theropod dinosaurs before being adopted by current birds.
“This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen,” said paper co-author and vertebrate palaeontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh in a statement. This little prenatal dinosaur resembles a newborn bird coiled up in its egg, adding to the growing body of evidence that many of the characteristics that distinguish today’s birds originated in their dinosaur forebears.”