Science

Mother Lode: Hundreds of Miraculously Intact Pterosaur Eggs Found in China

Mother Lode: Hundreds of Miraculously Intact Pterosaur Eggs Found in China

The early life of pterosaurs - the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight - has been a mystery.

A group of Chinese and Brazilian paleontologists announced that they had identified 215 well-preserved eggs from pterosaurs, the earth's first flying reptiles in a basin of China's northwestern autonomous region Xinjiang.

Unlike the handful of H. tianshanensis eggs collected previously, this latest batch included unsmashed eggs and more than a dozen with embryo remains inside.

Wang said up to 300 eggs may be present at the excavation site near the city of Hami because more appear to be buried under the exposed ones.

"Although most eggs are complete, small fissures resulting from decomposition and compression during burial must have occurred because all eggs are filled with sandstone, which ultimately accounts for their three-dimensionality".

As adults, these creatures would have stood about 1m tall, with a wingspan of 3m. The team used computed tomography scanning to peer inside 42 eggs, and found 16 that contained the remains of embryos at various stages of development, with partial skulls and limb bones.

"The samples of thigh bones that remain intact are well-developed, suggesting that the species benefited from functional hind legs shortly after hatching", the paleontologists said.

But their chest muscles were weak. That suggests, Kellner says, that pterosaurs could walk when they hatched, but not fly.

"They needed their parents".

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This Chinese fossil contains hundreds of pterosaur eggs and bones.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

Researchers also noted that the cracked exterior of the eggs resembled the fragile softness of lizard eggs.

"Their external surface shows cracking and crazing, and all are deformed to a certain extent, which indicate their pliable nature", the paper wrote.

One of the young pterosaurs was estimated to be "at least two years old and still growing at the time of its death, supporting the growing body of evidence that pterosaurs had long incubation periods".

Reported by the Daily Mail, citing a publication in the journal Science.

However, many questions remain, including whether the size of each clutch was really two as previous studies have suggested, just how the pterosaurs concealed their eggs, whether beneath vegetation or sand or soil, and why so numerous eggs appear dehydrated.

Despite such disagreement over how to interpret the find, there is no question over the magnificence of the fossils.