A new species of giant, bird-like dinosaur which tended to enormous nests that were larger than monster truck tires has been discovered in China, scientists said today. Measuring about eight metres and weighing up to three tonnes, the new species named Beibeilong sinensis or baby dragon from China, lived about 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period.
The giant oviraptorosaur – a type of feathered, wing-bearing, beaked dinosaur closely related to birds – is the largest known dinosaur to have sat on its nest and cared for its young, researchers said. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found the dinosaur species based on a number of large eggs and an associated embryo that were collected in China in the early 1990s but then exported out of the country.
At one time, many fossil eggs collected in Henan were being exported out of China to other countries. “This particular fossil was outside the country for over 20 years and its return to China finally allowed us to properly study the specimen and name a new dinosaur species, Beibeilong sinensis or baby dragon from China,” said Professor Lu Junchang, a paleontologist at Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
The eggs are up to 45 centimetres long and weighed about five kilogrammes, making them some of the largest dinosaur eggs ever discovered.They were found in a ring-shaped clutch, which was part of a nest that was about 2-3 meters in diameter and probably contained two dozen or more eggs. “For many years it was a mystery as to what kind of dinosaur laid these enormous eggs and nests,” said Darla Zelenitsky, a professor at the University of Calgary in Canada.
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“Because fossils of large theropods, like tyrannosaurs, were also found in the rocks in Henan, some people initially thought the eggs may have belonged to a tyrannosaur,” said Zelenitsky. “Thanks to this fossil, we now know that these eggs were laid by a gigantic oviraptorosaur, a dinosaur that would have looked a lot like an overgrown cassowary.
“It would have been a sight to behold with a three tonne animal like this sitting on its nest of eggs,” Zelenitsky said. Study of the bones of an embryo that died while hatching out of one of the eggs reveals that the egg-layer is a new species of oviraptorosaur.
Although bones of the adult are not known, it was probably in the ballpark of eight meters long and three tonnes in body mass, based on comparison to close relatives. Since fossils of smaller-bodied, close relatives have been fossilised while sitting on top of their eggs, researchers describe the new giant oviraptorosaur species as the largest known dinosaur to have sat on its nest and cared for its young.
“The fossils were originally collected by farmers in Henan Province of China in 1993, but were subsequently exported out of China to the US,” said Philip Currie, a professor at the University of Alberta in Canada. “The eggs and embryo gained worldwide fame when they were featured in a National Geographic article in 1996, but it was impossible to describe them in a scientific journal – and to name the new species – until the fossils were repatriated to China,” said Currie.