300 fossilised pterosaur eggs found

Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs

About 215 eggs of the pterosaur, which flew and have jagged teeth, were found in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. The large number of eggs appear to have been laid by different females, suggestive of nesting in colonies. Scientists even took to calling it "Pterosaur Eden". The researchers also suspect there could be as many as 300 more eggs within the same sandstone block.

The researchers consider a tornado might have hit a large group of pterosaur nests hidden in mud and washed them into a lake.

The full statement from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters follows below.

"If you were to tell me a year before that someone would find hundreds of pterosaur eggs at one spot I would have said 'Yeah, yeah get out of here". Only a handful of isolated occurrences of eggs and embryos have been reported so far. In recent years, palaeontologists discovered five eggs from China and one egg from Argentina.

"The work is a crucial advance in understanding pterosaur reproduction", he wrote.

Even better, 16 of the 215 miraculously preserved eggs found in China's Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang contain embryonic remains of the pterosaur species, which means that scientists now have more information about how pterosaurs progressed from egg to adult than ever before. Their study was published online 30 November in Science. This includes the species in question, Hamipterus tianshanensis, which Kellner, Wang and a team of their colleagues discovered in 2014.

"The eggs are in an accumulation without a preferential orientation, clearly showing transport" caused by strong winds and storms at that time, according to the paper by Wang's team and researchers in Brazil.

"All are deformed to a certain extent, which indicate their pliable nature", said the study. It likely ate fish and lived in dry, sandy environments, where it buried its eggs on the shores of lakes and rivers (thus fitting with the idea of flowing water washing the eggs away). None of the embryos are complete, the paper states, and the scientists used computed tomography scanning to view what was inside. Bones are distributed along the egg, and mostly disarticulated and displaced from their natural position. The research team found that the animal's hind leg bones were more developed than the wings at the time of hatching, and none of the embryos were found with teeth. This can be explained by several factors, including the presence of embryos in distinct embryological stages, differential preservation of bones, and loss of elements during transport and burial, with part of the egg content expelled.

Kellner emphasised the importance of the large quantity of eggs: "They're very fragile, which always makes their preservation hard".

"Furthermore, this occurrence implies colonial breeding for Hamipterus tianshanensis, as demonstrated by the osteohistological identification of individuals in different growth stages, a hypothesis previously speculated for pterosaurs on the basis of very limited evidence".

"Furthermore, the overlaying of multiple clutches suggests that the pterosaurs may have exhibited breeding site fidelity, similar to rookery-breeding seabirds", the researchers said in Science.

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