The scientists studying the newly discovered fossils hope to find out how the pterosaurs became the first creatures with a backbone to master flight. And though these creatures lorded over the skies for around 162 million years, only a handful of pterosaur egg fossils have ever been unearthed. According to the new research, a site in China's Turpan-Hami Basin in Xinjiang has coughed up 215 lovely, pliable and miraculously three-dimensional eggs - 16 of which contain embryonic remains.
"Although most eggs are complete, small fissures resulting from decomposition and compression during burial must have occurred because all eggs are filled with sandstone, which ultimately accounts for their three-dimensionality".
Treasure Trove of eggs reveals: Pterosaur infants required their parents
The CT scans meant the researchers could use X-rays to see inside the eggs and embryos without destroying them, the first time this has been done with pterosaur eggs (although dinosaur eggs have been studied like this before).
The discovery of 215 eggs of a species of pterosaur with an 11-foot wingspan and pointy teeth has shed light on the lives of the ancient carnivores.
Michael Habib, a paleontologist at the University of Southern California, said the authors make a good argument but that it doesn't necessarily prove the young pterosaurs were flightless. The seemingly weak arms came as a surprise, because many paleontologists thought that pterosaurs were fliers almost straight out of the egg.
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The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.
Lead Image: The site's rocks contain a jumble of preserved Hamipterus eggs, as well as disarticulated bones from adults of the same species.
The most complete embryo contains a partial wing and cranial bones, including a complete lower jaw, said the study. Number two: "I wish we would find eggs in situ-that means 'not moved.' We would learn a lot from that". That's because it's hard to pinpoint just how close to hatching the embryos actually were.
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"Lastly, the fact that a single collection of embryos exhibits a range of developmental stages hints that pterosaurs participated in colonial nesting behavior".
Unwin said this makes the find even more important because all of the pterosaur embryos that have been discovered thus far have been late-stage and almost ready to hatch.
Hundreds of pterosaur bones laying on the surface, demonstrating the richness of these sites. Out of the massive egg basket, only 16 contained embryos at various stages of formation.
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However, many questions remain, including whether the size of each clutch was really two as previous studies have suggested, just how the pterosaurs concealed their eggs, whether beneath vegetation or sand or soil, and why so numerous eggs appear dehydrated. The lack of other skull bones suggests the skull developed later than other bones in the skeleton. The sheer amount of samples also suggests that pterosaurs adhered to specific nesting locations and protected their eggs until they hatched, much like some marine bird species of today.