Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dinosaur Whodunit: Solving A 77-million-year-old Mystery

Date:
November 14, 2008
Source:
University of Calgary
Summary:
It has all the hallmarks of a Cretaceous melodrama. A dinosaur sits on her nest of a dozen eggs on a sandy river beach. Water levels rise, and the mother is faced with a dilemma: Stay or abandon her unhatched offspring to the flood and scramble to safety?

Reconstruction of the dinosaur nest and the two possible theropod egg layers.
Credit: Copyright Julius T. Csotonyi

It has all the hallmarks of a Cretaceous melodrama. A dinosaur sits on her nest of a dozen eggs on a sandy river beach. Water levels rise, and the mother is faced with a dilemma: Stay or abandon her unhatched offspring to the flood and scramble to safety?

Seventy-seven million years later, scientific detective work conducted by University of Calgary and Royal Tyrrell Museum researchers used this unique fossil nest and eggs to learn more about how nest building, brooding and eggs evolved. But there is a big unresolved question: Who was the egg-layer?

"Working out who the culprit was in this egg abandonment tragedy is a difficult problem to crack," says Darla Zelenitsky, U of C paleontologist and the lead author of a paper published today in the journal Palaeontology. "After further investigation, we discovered that this find is rarer than we first thought. It is a one of a kind fossil. In fact, it is the first nest of its kind in the world."

Zelenitsky says she first saw the nest in a private collection which had been collected in Montana in the 1990s. The nest was labeled as belonging to a hadrosaur (duck-billed) dinosaur, but she soon discovered it was mistakenly identified. In putting all the data together, she realized they had a small theropod (meat-eating) dinosaur nest. "Nests of small theropods are rare in North America and only those of the dinosaur Troodon have been identified previously," says Zelenitsky. "Based on characteristics of the eggs and nest, we know that the nest belonged to either a caenagnathid or a small raptor, both small meat-eating dinosaurs closely related to birds. Either way, it is the first nest known for these small dinosaurs."

The nest tells scientists more about the behaviour of the animal as well as some valuable information relating to the characteristics of modern birds. "Our research tells us a lot about the dinosaur that laid the eggs and how it built its nest," says Francois Therrien, a co-investigator in the study and curator of dinosaur palaeoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta.

The fossil nest is a mound of sand about half a metre across and weighing as much as a small person. The eggs were laid two at a time, on the sloping sides of the mound, and form a ring around its flat top, where the nesting dinosaur would have sat and brooded its clutch.

"Based on features of the nest, we know that the mother dug in freshly deposited sand, possibly the shore of a river, to build a mound against which she laid her eggs and on which she sat to brood the eggs," says Therrien. "Some characteristics of the nest are shared with birds, and our analysis can tell us how far back in time these features, such as brooding, nest building, and eggs with a pointed end, evolved – partial answers to the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Calgary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Calgary. "Dinosaur Whodunit: Solving A 77-million-year-old Mystery." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113181200.htm>.
University of Calgary. (2008, November 14). Dinosaur Whodunit: Solving A 77-million-year-old Mystery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113181200.htm
University of Calgary. "Dinosaur Whodunit: Solving A 77-million-year-old Mystery." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113181200.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins