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Paleontologists Find Cache of 215 Pterosaur Eggs in China
07 December 2017, 01:58 | Bernard Bryant
To date, only a small handful of pterosaur eggs with a well-preserved 3D structure and embryo inside have been found and analyzed: three eggs from Argentina and five from China. The find looks set to transform palaeontologists' understanding of these enigmatic creatures. Scientists knew little about the childhood of these lizards, as has been found intact only 8 eggs.
But the latest report in the peer-reviewed U.S. journal Science is based on the biggest collection to date - 215 fossilised eggs that were found in a 3m-long sandstone block in northwestern China's Hami City, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
This sparse sample size was dramatically increased upon the discovery of 215 fossilized eggs of Hamipterus tianshanensis, a species of pteranodontoid pterosaur that lived about 120 million years ago (Cretaceous period) in what is now northwestern China.
The most complete embryo contained a partial wing and cranial bones, including a complete lower jaw. Quickly buried by sediment, the eggs and bones did not decay but instead were preserved as fossils. It's "a crucial advance", writes Charles Deeming, who studies bird and reptile reproduction at the University of Lincoln, UK, in a commentary also published in Science.
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"[You could] discover one pterosaur in an area of one square metre", Wang was quoted as saying.
Although the eggs are not in their original nest positions - they were probably washed together by a storm event - the authors argue that the series of embryos and juveniles at different developmental stages strongly suggests that they nested as a group. Until now, the consensus has been that hatchling pterosaurs could fly nearly from birth.
Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus were found alongside young pterosaurs and eggs at a site in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but can't fly, ' Jiang said, an unexpected finding.
But Witton isn't convinced. "We never thought we would find so many eggs". "These animals would weigh just a few grams when hatched, and nearly certainly didn't need crisply sculpted, well-ossified wing bones to fly", he says.
Adult pterosaur bones were also scattered across the site, a sign that they returned to the same nesting spots over time, much the same as modern day sea turtles. Other researchers suggest that these embryos were not close to hatching, however, and would have matured more fully in a matter of weeks or months, reports The Verge. "We hope to find embryos in different stages", he says, "to have a complete embryological sequence".
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