Dinosaur embryos twitched in their eggs like those of modern birds

A collection of embryos fossilised at various ages in different nests reveals how dinosaurs developed in the egg

Dinosaur embryos moved around inside their eggs and grew in much the same way as those of modern animals such as birds, say scientists who have examined more than 200 fossilised bones from 190m-year-old embryos found in China.

The bones came from the genus known as Lufengosaurus, a long-necked dinosaur that could grow up to eight metres long, and were found among fragments of egg shells at a site near the city of Lufeng in Yunnan, south west China. They are the oldest dinosaur embryos ever found and seem to have come from several nests and from eggs at various stages of development.

"Most of the time you get single glimpses of embryonic life in a dinosaur because they are preserved as a nest and all the eggs are in the same developmental stage," said Robert Reisz, a palaeontologist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who led the team that analysed the bones. "Here we have a growth series of embryos, which allowed us to track how these animals grew."

The team's results are published in the journal Nature. Reisz's team focused their analysis on the largest bone, the femur. They found that, inside the eggs, these bones seemed to be growing very quickly, implying that their incubation period might have been relatively short.

Inside the bones is a honeycomb structure of "primary spaces". The larger these are, said Reisz, the faster the embryo would have grown. In addition, the scientists found that the bones were shaped inside the eggs, as they grew, as attached muscles pulled on them. "This suggests that dinosaurs, like modern birds, moved around inside their eggs," said Reisz. "It represents the first evidence of such movement in a dinosaur."

Contributor

Alok Jha, science correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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