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Pterosaur hatchlings needed their parents, trove of eggs reveals

03 December 2017

"If you were to tell me a year before that someone would find hundreds of pterosaur eggs at one spot, I would have said 'Yeah, yeah get out of here".

Based on growth marks, the team also estimated one of the individuals 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.

"My first thought was extreme jealousy", said David Unwin, a pterosaur expert and paleobiologist at the University of Leicester, England.

The researchers speculate a storm might have hit a large colony of pterosaur nests buried in mud and washed them into a lake.

In total, paleontologists have discovered 215 eggs, with 16 of them containing embryonic remains of the pterosaur species Hamipterus tianshanensis.

Kellner emphasised the importance of the large quantity of eggs: "They're very fragile, which always makes their preservation hard".

Because of the number of fossils found here, this species of pterosaur is now the one we have the most complete picture of, but questions remain, according to Deeming.

Pterosaur eggs by the dozen were found in northwestern China by scientists over a 10-year span, giving researchers new clues into the prehistoric flying reptiles' nesting behaviors and development.

The areas for muscle attachment of important flight muscles were either small or nonexistent in the unhatched animals, while the legs appeared to be more complete.

"We want to call this region 'Pterosaur Eden, ' said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences" Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The species that laid the recently discovered eggs is known as Hamipterus tianshanensis.

If they were not, as some scientists have pointed out with careful consideration, then Wang and Kernell's conclusions might still be far off from reality in ancient times.

Hamipterus not only fed in this long-lost paradise, it also bred there, likely burying clutches of eggs in vegetation or on shorelines.

"What's on my wish list?" says coauthor Alexander Kellner, a paleontologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. When the pterosaurs thrived, the place was most likely a lush lake shore.

"Pterosaurs are incredibly diverse, not just in the shape but also in sizes", said Chiappe, who was part of a team that described a 100-million-year-old pterosaur egg in central Argentina in 2004. This can be explained by several factors, including the presence of embryos in distinct embryological stages, differential preservation of bones, and loss of elements during transport and burial, with part of the egg content expelled.

"The work is a crucial advance in understanding pterosaur reproduction", he wrote. And in at least 16 of these eggs, the sediments also cradled the delicate skeletons of developing pterosaur embryos, including one bone that the team thinks belonged to a hatchling.

By comparing isolated bones from pterosaurs of different ages, researchers can roughly piece together how Hamipterus developed. But with paleontologists working more and more on the case, it only seems like only a matter of time now. The skull roof was not well ossified before the animal hatched, and no teeth were found in any of the embryos.

Pterosaur hatchlings needed their parents, trove of eggs reveals