Colored bird, dinosaur eggs in same evolutionary basket

02 November, 2018, 23:17 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg

Or a robin's creamy blue-green.

"Some were spotted and speckled". But as James Gorman of the New York Times reports, a new study has found that colorful eggs may have appeared all the way back in the age of the dinosaurs. On the other hand, recent findings suggest that the dinosaurs could lay eggs of different colors.

But really though: A study from past year found that oviraptors, a dinosaur of the late Cretaceous period, laid blue-green eggs, containing the same pigments as modern bird eggs.

Traditionally, dinosaurs were thought of as reptilian-style breeders that dumped their eggs and left. Wiemann, a graduate student at Yale University went on to work with Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, to develop a nondestructive method for identifying pigments.

As the researchers write today in Nature, the fact that they found colored eggs in so many carnivorous theropod dinosaurs that are closely related to birds-and exactly the same method of eggshell pigmentation-means colored eggs evolved "deep within the dinosaur tree and long before the spectacular radiation of modern birds", likely more than 150 million years ago. However, many theropod dinosaurs, which walked on their hind legs and are thought to be the direct ancestors of modern birds, did indeed have color patterns as well as speckles and spots on their eggs. Another molecule, protoporphyrin, provides the rusts and browns. These pigments mix like watercolor paints to produce the entire color palette of bird eggs.

Other features which were once assumed to have originated in birds, like wishbones and feathers also came from their dinosaur forebears, Norell said.

This new research expands her previous study.

The study's other co-author is Tzu-Ruei Yang from the Steinmann Institute for Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology at the University of Bonn. The non-extinct animals included an alligator and the domesticated chicken. They tested fossilized eggshells from 14 different dinosaurs and also ancient and modern birds.

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The study authors selected their shells carefully so they could know what sort of dinosaur laid the eggs. "So there are all the functions that are associated with spotting patterns on eggs that we did not even consider for dinosaur eggs".

Sauropods and hadrosaurs did not have colorful eggs. Dinosaur relatives of birds, though, had colorful eggs, including spots and both pigment types.

These results confirm that Wiemann's discovery of blue oviraptor eggs was not a fluke, Hauber said.

A nesting cassowary-like dinosaur named Beibeilong sinensis in the act of incubating eggs.

Egg patterns are a window into dinosaur nesting habits.

"This dinosaur is particularly interesting because oviraptors are the first dinosaurs that built open nests", she says, explaining that earlier dinosaurs buried eggs underground, where color wouldn't be expected to make any difference.

They found traces of pigments in the eggshells of all dinosaurs in the Maniraptora - a clade of small, bipedal, often feathered non-avian dinosaurs generally regarded as the ancestors of birds.


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