Embryo of a Dinosaur Discovered Inside a Fossilized Egg

A little animal is depicted in a tight tuck, legs drawn up, back twisted, and beaked head bowed toward its tail. This is Baby Yingliang, a fascinating preserved dinosaur embryo discovered inside an old egg and snuggled into a posture similar to that of a contemporary bird moments before hatching.

The Baby Yingliang fossil is from the late Cretaceous period, and it is estimated to be between 72 million and 66 million years old. It was discovered in southern China and represents the bones of an oviraptorosaur, a kind of theropod dinosaur. The embryo's quality of preservation, as well as its location inside the egg, make the fossil an extraordinary find.

"Previously unknown in dinosaurs, this position is comparable to that of current bird embryos," according to a statement released by the University of Birmingham on Tuesday. A study of the fossil undertaken by researchers from that school and Beijing's China University of Geosciences was published this week in the journal iScience.

The dinosaur would be roughly 10.6 inches (27 centimeters) long, according to the experts. The egg measures 6.7 inches (17 cm) long, indicating how much the organism was folded over.

"It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviors," said joint first author Fion Waisum Ma, a paleontologist at the University of Birmingham. 

The researchers would like to analyze additional well-preserved dinosaur embryos to see if the tucking posture originated in theropods. The posture contributes to the effective hatching of contemporary birds.

According to study co-author Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, the find is "one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen," and it provides "even further proof that many traits typical of today's birds initially originated in their dinosaur forebears." 

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