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190-million Year Old Dinosaur Nursery

January 24, 2012 by staff 

190-million Year Old Dinosaur Nursery, The Royal Ontario Museum unveils a new exhibit ton Massospondylus nests and embryos. The exhibit features discoveries that were made in the 1970′s and more recent discoveries made by the Museum and University of Toronto on digs in South Africa.
Despite the hardnosed, every-reptile-for-himself Darwinism of the prehistoric world, dinosaurs, it turns out, knew how to show a little tenderness.

In a groundbreaking new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Toronto and Royal Ontario Museum researchers suggest that dinosaurs may, in fact, have exhibited caring and compassion when it came to raising their young.

The findings — unveiled Monday among fossils and skeletons inside the ROM’s “Dinosaurs Eggs and Babies” exhibit — were gleaned from what the researchers believe to be the oldest dinosaur nesting sites ever discovered, by 100 million years.

The nests reveal previously unknown evidence of dinosaurs’ “complex reproductive behaviour.” It suggests they began mothering their babies as early as the embryonic stage. What’s more, the dinosaurs laid eggs in groups, which David Evans, a ROM associate curator who co-authored the study, calls “gregarious nesting.”

“(The research) gives us a very clear picture of reproduction details in early dinosaurs,” Evans said.

The researchers contend the findings could have wide-ranging impact on the study of animal evolution.

“We always think of birds and mammals as being great mothers,” University of Toronto paleontologist and study co-author Robert Reisz said. “But it shows up very early in dinosaur history, much earlier than we ever thought.”

Layer upon layer of embryo fossils unearthed from sedimentary rock also indicate that the dinosaurs returned to the same breeding sites year after year, a reproduction pattern referred to as “nesting fidelity.”

The study comes nearly seven years after scientists, including Reisz, uncovered several 190-million-year-old dinosaur eggs and embryos — the oldest yet discovered — in South Africa’s Golden Gate Highlands National Park. That find generated buzz throughout the paleontology community. The fossils belonged to the dinosaur Massospondylus, a 6-metre-long herbivore that walked on two legs. Scientists at the time determined the dinosaurs, like humans, began life on all fours before learning to walk upright.

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