The Case of the Dinosaur Egg Thief

The Case of the Dinosaur Egg Thief

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in the 1920s American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews led an expedition to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia in search of human origins that particular quest would end up going unfulfilled but Andrews and his team did find something pretty spectacular instead of early humans the rocks of the Gobi yielded a trove of dinosaur fossils that were completely new to science including the world's first recognized dinosaur eggs the fossils confirmed that dinosaurs like birds and reptiles laid eggs but one of the more interesting specimens was a small bird-like theropod dinosaur whose skull was found right on top of a
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nest of eggs that are believed to belong to a plant-eating dinosaur it appeared to be a thief caught in the act of taking the eggs of another dinosaur when these fossils were sent back to the American Museum of Natural History in 1924 another paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn described the dinosaur and gave it the name Oviraptor or egg thief but Osborn had doubts about Oviraptors alleged behavior in the very paper where he named it egg thief he actually questioned whether Oviraptor really did feast on other dinosaurs eggs it would be decades before the case of the dinosaur egg thief was reopened but
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when it was those new investigations would help reinvent how he thought about dinosaurs it would show that they weren't cold unfeeling reptiles at least some of them were social bird-like animals and instead of being the nightmarish nest robbers that they were thought to be dinosaurs like Oviraptor would reveal themselves to be caring parents so dedicated to their offspring that they sometimes tried to protect their young to the very end in the early days of paleontology we didn't know much about the parenting habits if any of non-avian dinosaurs that's mainly because there weren't any recognized dinosaur eggs in the fossil record or
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even fossils of baby dinosaurs in a nest some researchers like Osbourne suspected that dinosaurs probably cared for their young a lot like birds do and species that do this use a strategy called K selection this is where a parent uses its energy to ensure that its few offspring survive the early stages of development but many other paleontologists thought dinosaurs were more like some modern reptiles like turtles which just lay their eggs and then leave giving their offspring very little direct attention this strategy is known as our selection instead of using a lot of energy to make sure that one or just a few offspring survive a parent uses that energy to produce many more
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offspring at once to increase the likelihood that at least one will make it the expeditions to Mongolia in early 20th century provided more insights into which strategy dinosaurs might have used at the flaming cliffs of the Gobi Desert the first recognized dinosaur eggs were found but none of those eggs contain identifiable bones of the young inside but there were abundant remains of one species of dinosaur from the same fossil formation Protoceratops a small hornless ceratopsian because those dinosaurs were so abundant the eggs were first thought to have belonged to Protoceratops which led us warned to describe the skull
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found on top of the eggs to have belonged to the egg thief Oviraptor it would take about five decades before new discoveries would make experts rethink what actually happened at that site in the Gobi Desert in 1978 just outside of shota Montana not far from where I am now a series of small dinosaur bones were found and there were just any little bones they were the first-ever fossils of baby dinosaurs found in a nest there are more than 10 of them just over a half metre long and they were all in a big oval-shaped nest the teeth of these baby dinos showed a considerable amount of wear which suggests that they were already eating in the bones while still
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unfused or sturdy enough to have allowed them to go outside the nest so those clues suggested that these baby dinosaurs weren't newborns they'd actually been in the nest for some time after hatching and if they stayed in the nest after they hatched that would mean that something had to have been taking care of them parents so this new dinosaur was given the name Maiasaura or the good mother lizard now paleontologists had direct evidence of dinosaur parental care caring for their offspring after they hatched much like birds do today this discovery was part of the dinosaur Renaissance that started in the late 1960s which we've talked about before it caused
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paleontologists to rethink how they interpreted dinosaurs social behavior not as slow dim-witted solitary reptiles but as smart active animals and it was during this time that scientists started to rethink what we really knew about Oviraptor they knew it was a theropod specifically a Mainer Raptor in which is a group of dinosaurs that includes modern birds and since was part of that branch of the Dino family tree paleontologists began to question help bird-like they really were in terms of behavior so in the 1990s the American Museum of Natural History finally returned to the Gobi Desert and they found the evidence that would exonerate
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the alleged egg thief a series of expeditions brought back a variety of new fossils among them an egg very similar to the ones originally with Oviraptor but this egg was really close to hatching and preserved the bones of the baby inside and it turns out the embryo was not a Protoceratops as they expected instead the bones were a baby Oviraptor meaning that the eggs from their earlier expedition were also from Oviraptor so the original specimen of Oviraptor that was found on that nest it wasn't trying to steal the eggs who was trying to protect them Oviraptor wasn't an egg thief it was actually a
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parent that was dedicated enough to die while trying to protect its offspring from sandstorm or a flood or maybe a same doom collapse so Henry Fairfield Osborn was right to doubt the name that he gave Oviraptor which means he was also wrong to have called it that in the first place and since then more specimens from the same families of Raptor have been found and they've been key to our understanding of dinosaur parenting during that same expedition to the Gobi another relative of Oviraptor was found named city pati and it showed just how close dinosaurs were to birds and their parenting behavior a specimen was about 70 million years old and it
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was given the nickname Big Momma because it was found sitting on top of the nest of about 20 eggs and we know this was its nest because of how it was positioned on the eggs its body was in the centre with the eggs surrounding it in a circular pattern the wider ends of the eggs were all pointed toward the center of the nest and the dinosaurs four limbs were spread out covering the eggs as if to protect them and the eggs closest to the body were found touching the dinosaur's gastrula those bones found along the bellies of some reptiles suggesting that the dinosaur kept them right next to its abdomen this is very similar to a behaviour seen in modern birds called brooding in which Birds
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used their body heat and feathers to incubate and protect the eggs in their nest fossils like the one of Big Momma that directly depict behavior are really rare but since its discovery other specimens in the same families Oviraptor and city patty have been found to also show signs of brooding behavior and while it's still being debated there's some evidence that suggest two brooders of these eggs may not have been mothers but fathers in 2008 a study collected a bunch of data on dinosaurs body sizes as well as a number of eggs they typically had in each clutch the study then compared that data with the same info from different groups of living arca
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Soares the group that includes birds non-avian dinosaurs and also all the crocodilians and some of the arcus ors they used were maternal meaning that parenting is done by the females and some were paternal or dads do the work the results showed that dinosaurs like Oviraptor and city patty line up closely with birds that display paternal care like emus and most of their close relatives another part of this study also showed that the fossils of this brooding dinosaurs didn't have medullary bone a type of bone tissue found in ovulating female birds that remains for a short time after they laid their eggs so again experts are still arguing about this but
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there's some evidence that suggests the dinosaurs found in those nests were probably males if true this might mean that Oviraptor and his relatives were good father lizards dad's for the win over the last century or so while over Raptors gone from potential egg thief to attentive father we've also learned more about the origins of parenting behavior some Marcus ores like crocodile Ian's have been shown to exhibit general parenting behavior but the behavior that we associate with birds like brooding and long-term care of their young seems to have originated and non-avian dinosaurs so it's time to exonerate Oviraptor and while we're at it we
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should probably change the name to instead of egg thief might I suggest whatever the Latin is for dinosaur dead what would you rename over Raptor tell us your suggestions and the etymology of your name in the comments I wanted to let you all know about serving up science the newest show in the PBS Digital Studios family serving up science is hosted by history buff science writer and foodie show Kirschenbaum will give you science fact answers to all of your biggest food questions should you let your meat rest what's better wild or farmed salmon what makes that blue cheese so stinky and delicious follow me over to the PBS food channel
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to watch serving up science and tell them Yan sent you also dad's style fist bumps to this month's Yount ologists Patrick's life fruits Jake Hart John Davison Inge and of course Steve to become an Ian I go pledge your support at patreon.com slash yawns and as always thanks for joining me in the Constantine Haza studio be sure to subscribe at youtube.com slash yawns for more adventures in deep time you [Music]

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