Scientists have announced the discovery of an extraordinary piece of world history which dates back at least 66 million years. The exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo has been found inside a fossilised egg in the Late Cretaceous rocks of Ganzhou in southern China.
Meet ‘Baby Yingliang’! Our experts examined the 72 million-year-old embryo found inside a fossilised dinosaur egg in southern China, shedding new light on the link between the behaviour of modern birds and dinosaurs @LES_UniBham @EdinburghUni https://t.co/IVA2Un22zb pic.twitter.com/ZY1LE8i3Es
— UniBirmingham News (@news_ub) December 21, 2021
Dubbed “Baby Yingliang”, the egg is believed to have existed somewhere between 66 and 72 million years ago. University of Edinburgh Professor, Steve Brusatte had been part of the research team which studied the ancient egg.
“This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen. This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”
The state in which Baby Yingliang – unique among dinosaur embryos – is very similar to that of modern-day birds. The ancient embryo was found with its head lying below the body, with feet on either side, and back curled along the blunt end of the egg.
Such postures are reminiscent of “tucking”, a modern bird behaviour controlled by the central nervous system and critical for hatching success. The discovery would now suggest that dinosaurs developed bird-like postures before they hatched from the egg.
The embryo is said to be a toothless theropod, or oviraptorosaur – a group of feathered theropod dinosaurs, closely related to modern-day birds. Joint first author and PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham, Fion Waisum Ma said dinosaur embryos are “some of the rarest fossils and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated.
“We are very excited about the discovery of ‘Baby Yingliang’. It is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it. It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviours.”