A team of paleontologists in India has taken a close look at 256 fossilized dinosaur eggs in hopes of better understanding how some of the largest known dinosaurs were bred and hatched.
The eggs were found at 92 titanosaur nest sites in India’s Narmada Valley north and east of Mumbai, with the first clutches being discovered in 2012. Now researchers have published findings about the types of fossilized eggs found in these nests, along with conclusions about the dinosaurs that laid them. The team’s research is published today in PLoS ONE.
Harsha Dhiman, the study’s lead author, said in a PLoS publication that the research “offers new insights into the nest maintenance conditions and reproductive strategies of titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs on the verge of their extinction.”
For one, researchers know that the eggs were laid by titanosaurs, a group of sauropods that includes some of the largest dinosaurs that have ever walked the earth. They identified eggs of the genera Megaloolithus and Fusioolithus – the titanosaur groups known to have lived in India.
Elements of the sandstone in which the eggs were kept suggest the researchers that the swampy environment had some running water at the time the eggs were laid; Perhaps the nest site was near a chalk pond or lake.
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The eggs came in many shapes and sizes. Some were complete eggs. Some have been smashed into fossilized eggshells some 67 million years old. Still others were deformed, compressed, or mere outlines of eggs in the sandstone.
Some of the finds were pathological eggs, an abnormal variety produced when animals are stressed. Some of the abnormal occurrences the team found were eggs with multiple shell layers or eggs forming inside other eggs. These kinds of anomalies also appear in modern birds (which you may have found yourself if you’ve ever cracked eggs to find a double yolk).
Aside from conjuring up the idea of a double-yolk titanosaur omelette (am I the only one who thought of this?), the pathological eggs suggest that titanosaurs may have produced eggs sequentially, like modern birds.
Despite the abundance of fossilized egg shells and nests, the team did not find a dinosaur. For all eggs, means that no dinosaur bodies – from hatched young to adult titanosaurs – were found near the nest sites.
“From a theoretical point of view, it could be possible that this area was used only for nesting and not for habitation,” Guntupalli Prasad, a paleontologist at the University of Delhi in India, wrote in an email to Gizmodo. “From a taphonomic (conservative) perspective, the bones could not be preserved or are deeply buried or not yet uncovered and have yet to be discovered.”
Even without titanosaur bones, the sites shed light on dinosaur reproductive biology, an area we still don’t know too much about. Next, the team plans to revisit the nest sites and look for titanosaur teeth. They will also do CT scans of some of the more complete eggs to see if embryonic skeletons are preserved.
More: Paleontologists are finally examining a dinosaur cloaca