Egg fossils crack open secrets of ancient flying reptiles

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And it is not just one or two eggs, these researchers have found more than two hundred such eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site. Although they weren't related to the dinosaurs, they lived alongside them, shared certain similarities, and went extinct at about the same time as them.

In particular, they provide new evidence for the debate about whether pterosaurs could fly as soon as they hatched.

"Among the behavioural characteristics of these animals that we discovered is that they formed nesting colonies, where several families came to the same sites to lay their eggs and always returned to these areas, implying that they were areas favourable for nest-building". Now, researchers find themselves lucky to find a cache of hundreds of well-preserved eggs of the pterosaur species called Hamipterus tianshanensis. Jiang says the eggs had been moved from the place they were originally laid and may have been carried by water after a series of storms hit the animals' nesting ground. Pterosaurs had thin bones, one of the traits contributing to their flying abilities, so finding remains is challenging, not to mention eggs-only six three-dimensional preserved eggs from China and Argentina had been found earlier, according to the study.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is hard for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

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With this information in hand, Wang and Kellner infer that newborn pterosaurs could have been very similar to bird hatchlings of most species, meaning they needed some parental assistance to some extent and only learned how to fly later on their youth. Pterodactyl is most famous pterosaur, but it's a diverse group, including animals from the size of seagulls to the size of small planes.

The team wishes to use these eggs, and any others they uncover, to learn even more insight into pterosaur parenting and communal life. There may be even more of them, but scientists haven't had time to properly analyze all the eggs, and CT scans are only partially useful.

Xiaolin Wang, the lead author of the paper and a paleontologist from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, shared his discoveries with his colleague Dr. Alexander Kernell of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Five of the eggs were also found in the Turpan-Hami Basin, where a huge lake once existed in the Cretaceous period. Bones are distributed along the egg, and mostly disarticulated and displaced from their natural position.

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The team also discovered that these embryos lacked teeth at this stage of development.

Charles Deeming from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. Of the 215 eggs they found, 16 had embryonic remains, including one with partial wings and a toothless lower jaw.

By comparing isolated bones from pterosaurs of different ages, researchers can roughly piece together how Hamipterus developed.

"It is important to note that while the wings were less mature than the bones of the thighs in some respects, the wing bones are still much more robust than the bones of the hind limbs", Habib said. "So I think these new embryonic finds are really exciting because with these, we can begin to reconstruct the embryonic development of pterosaurs inside the egg".

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