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Flying pterosaur, fossil eggs

By David, 6 June 2014 News

Written by Sarah Kellett

Pterosaur picture

An ecological reconstruction of the new pterosaur species.
Image: Chuang Zhao

The first pterosaur eggs that were preserved in three dimensions have been found in China, giving us a glimpse into the lives of flying reptiles.

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles, and ruled the skies in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods millions of years ago. Today, scientists share insights into how pterosaurs behaved, announcing a huge find of at least 40 fossilized individuals, along with five eggs beautifully preserved in three dimensions.

It’s the eggs that are the star of the show. Until now, only a few flattened pterosaur eggs had been found – this is the first time they’ve have been found in three dimensions. The fossils have a thin eggshell around a membrane. They seem to have been a bit squishy, similar to snake eggs today.

“It’s quite remarkable,” says John Long, a paleontologist at Flinders University, who was not involved in the study. “It’s one of the best preserved pterosaurs I’ve ever seen, and more importantly it’s got the eggs preserved in three dimensions. That’s very unusual for the age.”

Fossil egg photo

A photo of a three-dimensional fossil egg.
Image: Maurilio Oliveira

Prehistoric treasures

Scientist Xiaolin Wang at the Chinese Academy of Science says the pterosaurs may have died in a storm 120 million years ago, based on the sediments found in the area. The fossil find comes from Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang, China. “China has some of the best fossil sites in the world for fossils of this age, including the spectacular feathered dinosaurs and beautiful preservation of Early Cretaceous animals and plants,” says John. “It is a wonderful treasure trove, China. All sorts of interesting things are coming out of there. This is just another example of exquisite preservation that comes from that region.”

These particular pterosaurs are a new species, Hamipterus tianshanensis. Although 40 individuals have been identified, there might be up to a hundred preserved in the rocks. Finding fossils of so many individuals and eggs from different nests suggests these pterosaurs lived in large groups.

The researchers may have also found a difference in how male and female pterosaurs looked. All had crests on their heads, but they varied in size and shape. The scientists think males had larger and thicker crests, much like modern roosters sport a big red comb on their heads.

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Would you rather have the ability to fly like a pterosaur, or be alive in the time of the dinosaurs? Me, I’d rather see the dinosaurs! Post your comments below.

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