Researchers in China have discovered a previously unknown dinosaur species alongside dozens of its unhatched eggs. According to a study published in the journal Natural Science Review, a team from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) discovered the fossils representing the three adults of the new species, believed to have lived around 190 million years ago during the Jurassic period (201 million to 145 million years ago). The fossils were excavated in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.
According to the study, the newly identified species, named Qianlong shouhu, belongs to a group of dinosaurs known as sauropodomorphs, which contains sauropods and their ancestors. These dinosaurs could grow to colossal sizes and they walked on four legs. They are characterised by their very long necks, long tails, small heads and thick legs.
Qianlong shouhu was a medium-sized sauropodomorph that measured roughly 20 feet in length and likely weighed 1 ton, the researchers said. They also found around 50 fossilised eggs of the same species that contained the skeletal remains of the embryos inside them. The Chinese researchers analysed the eggs and said that they were elliptical in shape and relatively small. They also revealed that the eggshells may have had a texture similar to leather.
The finds from Guizhou provide “strong evidence” for the earliest known “leathery” eggs, the authors wrote in the study, adding that the discovery suggests that the first dinosaur egg was leathery in texture. The researchers wrote that their analysis found that the shells of the eggs were semirigid, which challenges existing ideas about the nature of the earliest dinosaur eggs.
“After analysis, we came to believe its eggshell was semi-rigid, falling between soft ones like snakes’ eggs and rigid ones like hens’ eggs. Different from the existing arguments that the earliest dinosaurs’ eggs were soft or rigid, we argue for the first time that the earliest dinosaurs’ eggs were semi-rigid,” Han Fenglu, the first author of the study and a professor with the School of Earth Sciences at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, told the Global Times.
Han Fenglu also said that dinosaur eggs from a similar period have been discovered in countries such as South Africa and Argentina, but those of Qianlong Shouhu preserved the most complete eggshell structure. Their shell surface indicates that the eggs would have had a leathery texture after being laid, they said.
Now, scientists believe that this discovery may represent the earliest known fossil record of adult dinosaur and their associated egg nests. It also sheds light on the behavioural patterns and reproductive strategies of early dinosaurs.