Paleontologists discover 256 dinosaur egg fossils in India

Paleontologists in India found 92 dinosaur nesting sites and 256 egg fossils. The scientists made the discovery between 2017 and 2020 in the Narmada valley in central India. Studies say the discovery is the first of its kind for the Narmada valley.

During the study, published this week in PLOS ONE, research from the University of Delhi found sauropod nesting sites in five villages in the Bagh-Kukshi district. Sauropods are large long-necked herbivores like the brontosaurus.

The researchers examined and documented the egg fossils as either clutches (eggs in the nest) or as broken eggs with pieces of eggshell scattered around.

(A) Circular clutch type outline (Moratalla et al. [64]).  (B) Field photo of the circular type clutch from Padlya showing eggs with sediment gaps from the P35 clutch, MP/Credit: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

(A) Circular clutch type outline (Moratalla et al. [64]). (B) Field photo of the circular type clutch from Padlya showing eggs with sediment gaps from the P35 clutch, MP/Credit: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

Little was known about sauropod nesting patterns, but titanosaur egg fossils helped the paleontologist learn more about their habits and reproductive biology. Titanosaurs lived from the Late Jurassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period, and their fossils have been found on every continent except Antarctica.

There are about 40 species of Titanosaurs. The researchers were able to identify six different types of ootypes (or dinosaur eggs) in the region, suggesting diversity in titanosaur species in the region.

The discovery of ovum-in-ovo eggs (eggs with different layers besides the shell) suggests that these dinosaurs had bird-like eggs. However, their claws were randomly placed, suggesting that their nesting pattern is similar to that of crocodiles. Researchers believe the eggs were partially buried in a shallow pit, similar to modern crocodiles, and were incubated and exploited using solar radiation and geothermal heat.

(A) Incomplete egg from clutch P43.  (B) The almost completely intact circular outline of the egg indicates that it probably did not hatch and no loose eggshell was found in the P6 clutch.  (C) Squeezed egg from clutch DR10 showing several eggshells gathered around the brood window (arrow pointing to the gap) and possibly the brood window (circled), representing remnants of the brood window.  (D) Egg from clutch P26 showing curved lines.  (E) Deformed egg from clutch P30 showing egg surfaces sliding past each other.  / Credits: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

(A) Incomplete egg from clutch P43. (B) The almost completely intact circular outline of the egg indicates that it probably did not hatch and no loose eggshell was found in the P6 clutch. (C) Squeezed egg from clutch DR10 showing several eggshells gathered around the brood window (arrow pointing to the gap) and possibly the brood window (circled), representing remnants of the brood window. (D) Egg from clutch P26 showing curved lines. (E) Deformed egg from clutch P30 showing egg surfaces sliding past each other. / Credits: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

“These observations suggest that the reproductive biology of the sauropod dinosaur was more similar to that of archosaurs (crocodiles, birds) than non-archosaur reptiles,” the paleontologists write. The researchers also published a study on eggs and nesting patterns in Scientific Reports in June.

Scientists believe the babies must have released the clutches shortly after hatching. And because the burrows were plentiful, closely spaced, and different species, scientists believe titanosaurs had “colonial burrowing behavior” that helped protect against predators.

The same nesting area was shared by different species of sauropods, similar to modern turtles and birds, known for their colonial nesting behavior and having close spacing between clutches. Colony nesting has been previously reported for sauropods.

(A) Multishell egg pathology illustrated by fraternal layers from clutch P20.  (B) Egg-in-egg pathology arising from the P7 clutch with the gap between two complete eggshell layers (after Dhiman et al.) / Credits: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

(A) Multishell egg pathology illustrated by fraternal layers from clutch P20. (B) Egg-in-egg pathology manifested by the gap between two complete eggshell layers in the P7 clutch (after Dhiman et al.) / Credits: Harsha Dhiman & GVR Prasad

Some eggs did not hatch, possibly due to the death of the embryo due to environmental factors such as flooding. Eggs were laid in soft, marshy areas associated with small lakes or ponds. “Clutches near lake/pond edges are occasionally submerged in water and therefore remain unhatched,” the scientists write.

No remains of embryos, juveniles and parent dinosaurs were found at the site. “Maybe that’s because dinosaurs didn’t live where they laid their eggs,” the study says. “The eggs are devoid of embryos, possibly due to their deep burial and modifications resulting from plant root activities.”

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