Paleontologists have seen some incredible discoveries this century, but this may be the greatest discovery since the creation of paleontology. An almost perfect embryo was found in a fossilized unhatched dinosaur egg. The embryo, named by experts as "baby Yingliang", was found in Cretaceous rocks in Ganzhou, southern China, and turned out to be the egg of an egg-stealing dinosaur.
Scientists from the University of Birmingham and China University of Geosciences (Beijing) and a team of researchers from institutions in China, the United Kingdom and Canada published their findings today in iScience. The study shows new evidence of a link between the behavior of modern birds and dinosaurs. It also relates to why this embryo did not hatch. The rarity of this finding is best described by Dr. Fion Waisum Ma, a researcher at the University of Birmingham:
"Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils, and most of them are incomplete, with dislocated bones. We are very excited about the discovery of 'Baby Inara' - it is well preserved and helps us answer many questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction." (Fion Waisum Ma quoted)
Why didn't the baby Inryo hatch?
Based on radiocarbon analysis, this fossilized dinosaur egg is expected to be between 72 and 66 million years old. The reason this egg did not hatch can be likened to the hatching process of modern birds. Modern birds use this process called "folding," in which the bird, or in this case the dinosaur, bends its body and puts its head under its wings or arms just before the egg hatches. This helps to increase the success rate of the egg hatching. The
embryo itself is in the same position as it was when it was alive, without any bones moving from their original position. The egg was 17 cm long, while the creature is thought to have been 27 cm long from head to tail. Interestingly, even the pieces of the shell are intact. Dinosaur eggs have very hard, scaly shells. The closest egg to a dinosaur egg today is an ostrich egg.
An interesting finding of this study is that avian coiled bellies may have originated in non-avian dinosaurs. According to research done by the pathologists involved in this study, the sitting position of the creature is similar to that of a late modern bride embryo.
"It was interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo posed in a similar way inside the egg, which may indicate similar pre-hatching behavior." (Fion Waisum Ma quoted)
This means that the dinosaur egg was close to hatching, but its hatching was not successful due to the lack of folding behavior. Although it is difficult to determine the exact species of dinosaur this embryo belongs to, experts have identified it as an egg-stealing dinosaur based on its deep, toothless skull. This species is part of the feathered theropod suborder of dinosaurs that is thought to be the ancestor of modern birds.
The discovery of the baby Inara
What is more interesting is the actual discovery of this embryo. The egg itself was discovered in the early 2000s, along with other similar eggs, but they have never been opened or further analyzed. Since their discovery, they have been stored and almost forgotten. Professor Xing Lida of China University of Geosciences detailed the origin of this specimen:
"This dinosaur embryo was obtained as a suspected egg fossil by Mr. Liu Liang, director of the Yingliang Group, around 2000. During the construction of the Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum in the 2010s, museum staff organized the storage room and discovered the specimens. These specimens were identified as fossilized dinosaur eggs. Fossil preparation was carried out, and the embryos hidden inside the eggs were eventually uncovered. This is how "Baby Yingliang" came to light." (quoted by Prof. Xing Lida)
If this is the case with Baby Ingria, imagine how many other kinds of well-preserved fossils could be preserved in the archives of various museums and we wouldn't even know about them. All experts in the field agree that this is the most striking and well-preserved dinosaur embryo ever found.
Although much has been discovered from studying this specimen, it is vital to study more dinosaur embryos to understand their connection to modern animals. In this way, we may find the missing link in evolution. If you want to get a better understanding of the embryo, it is displayed in the Yingliang Shi Natural History Museum in Xianyang, China.