Scientists are showing off a perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo fossil that was preparing to hatch from its egg, much like a modern-day chicken.
The embryo fossil, nicknamed “Baby Yingliang,” was discovered in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province in southern China, and is believed to be at least 66 million years old.
Researcher Dr. Fion Waisum Ma told the AFP news agency that the discovery is “the best dinosaur embryo ever found in history.”
According to a published study, researchers at a Chinese mining company, Yingliang Group, found the egg fossil more than 20 years ago, but put it in storage with other fossils for 10 years.
When construction began on the company’s natural history museum, the fossil storage was sorted, and museum staff pulled the dinosaur eggs from the collection for closer examination. That’s when they noticed some bones on the broken cross-section of one of the eggs.
Researchers say the egg belonged to a toothless theropod dinosaur or oviraptorosaur. Ma and colleagues found Baby Yingliang’s head below its body, with its feet on either side and back curled — a posture familiar in modern birds but not previously seen in dinosaurs.
Researchers believe the animal was on the verge of hatching, but it was likely preserved when it was buried by a sudden mudslide, protecting it from scavengers.
Oviraptorosaurs, one of the closest relatives to birds, evolved earlier from small, feathered dinosaurs. This group of dinosaurs was still blossoming and diversifying during the last few million years before an asteroid struck Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs.
The baby dino measures about 27 centimetres long and is currently on display at the Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum.
Likely a herbivore, it would have grown to be about three metres long if it lived to adulthood.
“We were surprised to see this embryo beautifully preserved inside a dinosaur egg, lying in a bird-like posture. This posture had not been recognized in non-avian dinosaurs before,” Waisum Maof of the University of Birmingham, told CBS News.
Despite fossilized dinosaur eggs having been found during the last 100 years, a well-preserved embryo is extremely rare, the researchers said in their study. Paleontologists have found them over the years only six times.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.