PHOTO: The World's First 3-D Preserved Pterosaur Eggs Have Been Found In China

This is the first three dimensionally preserved pterosaur egg. Image: Maurilio Oliveira

Researchers have discovered the first three-dimensionally preserved eggs of pterosaurs, or flying reptiles, in China.

The rare eggs were found among pterosaur fossils representing a new genus and species (Hamipterus tianshanensis).

The discovery, described in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, reveals that the pterosaurs, flying reptiles of the dinosaur era with wingspans ranging from 25 centimetres to 12 metres, lived together in colonies.

This image is a reconstruction of a male Hamipterus. Image: Chuang Zhao

Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology says it was exciting to find many male and female pterosaurs and their eggs preserved together.

“Five eggs are three-dimensionally preserved, and some are really complete,” he says.

The fossil record of the pterosaurs has generally been poor with little information about their populations, the researchers say.

Before this latest find, only four isolated and flattened pterosaur eggs were known to science.

The resting place of the pterosaurs now described was first uncovered in 2005 in the Turpan-Hami Basin, south of the Tian Shan Mountains in Xinjiang, northwestern China.

Wang says that sediments in the area suggest that the pterosaurs died in a large storm about 120 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous period.

The researchers examined the largely intact pterosaur egg specimens to find that they were pliable, with a thin, calcareous eggshell outside and a soft, thick membrane inside, similar to the eggs of some modern snakes.

The researchers’ observations of 40 male and female individuals suggest differences between the sexes in the size, shape, and robustness of their head crests.

The combination of many pterosaurs and eggs strongly indicates the presence of a nesting site nearby and indicates that this species developed gregarious behaviour, the researchers say.

Hamipterus most likely buried their eggs in sand along the shore of an ancient lake to prevent them from drying out.

“Sites like the one reported here provide further evidence regarding the behavior and biology of this amazing group of flying reptiles that has no parallel in modern time,” the researchers write.

This image depicts ecological reconstructions of Hamipterus. Image: Chuang Zhao

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