By John Pickrell
A remarkable fossil slab containing hundreds of pterosaur eggs and some embryos has been discovered in China1. The find looks set to transform palaeontologists’ understanding of these enigmatic creatures.
The early life of pterosaurs — the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight — has been a mystery. It was only in 2004 that scientists even confirmed that they laid eggs, and until now, only a handful of eggs had been found. The newly discovered trove, belonging to a species called Hamipterus tianshanensis that lived around 120 million years ago, offers clues into the development and anatomy of freshly hatched pterosaurs. It also provides the first solid evidence that these animals nested in groups, similarly to many dinosaurs species2, 3.
The fossils, reported in the 1 December issue of Science1, were discovered in the Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang, northwestern China. From 2006 to 2016, Wang Xiaolin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and his colleagues excavated a 3-square-metre sandstone block to reveal at least 215 squashed and cracked eggs among jumbled pterosaur bones. They think that up to 300 eggs could be present, some buried below the upper layers of fossils. The team used computed tomography scanning to peer inside 42 eggs, and found 16 that contained the remains of embryos at various stages of development, with partial skulls and limb bones.
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