A group of Canadian and Chinese researchers has found that a fossil unearthed in China over 25 years ago belongs to a new species of feathered dinosaur, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.
Scientists first discovered the hatchling — known as Baby Louie –in a nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs. After years of research, they have determined it belonged to a bird-like species of oviraptorosaur known as Beibeilong sinensis.
While the fossil is small, the team says it would have grown to over 2,000 pounds as a full adult. Since the initial discovery, eggs have been found in China, South Korea, Mongolia, and North America. This suggests that B. sinensis was common throughout the world 100 million years ago.
”The geographical distribution and abundant occurrences of Macroelongatoolithus egg remains reveal that giant oviraptorosaurs were relatively widespread and perhaps even common in the early part of the Late Cretaceous, even though their skeletal remains are scarce and have yet to be identified in many regions,” the team noted in their study, according to BBC News.
Thousands of dinosaur eggs were collected from Henan, China, by local farmers in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Baby Louie was one of those specimens. After the discovery, it got imported to the U.S., where it remained a mystery for over two decades. However, in 2013, the remains were returned to China and put into the Henan Geological Museum. This allowed the team properly to study the fossil.
To identify the species, researchers compared it to previously described dinosaurs. This gave them a chance to study different traits and see where Baby Louie fit in the family tree.
“For many years it was a mystery as to what kind of dinosaur laid these enormous eggs and nests. Because fossils of large theropods, like tyrannosaurs, were also found in the rocks in Henan, some people initially thought the eggs may have belonged to a tyrannosaur,” said study co-author Darla Zelenitsky, a professor at the University of Calgary, in a statement. “Thanks to this fossil, we now know that these eggs were laid by a gigantic oviraptorosaur, a dinosaur that would have looked a lot like an overgrown cassowary.”
This new classification sheds light on the way some of the biggest dinosaurs reproduced and could help researchers gain more insight into other species. They believe the new oviraptorosaur may have been the largest species to sit on a nest and care for its young.