Oldest Dinosaur Nursery Found

January 24, 2012 by staff 

Oldest Dinosaur Nursery Found, An artist’s recreation of Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa, where paleontologists have unearthed the oldest known dinosaur nesting site, dating to 190 million years ago.

The oldest known dinosaur nesting site, dating to 190 million years ago, has been unearthed in Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa.

The extraordinary site, described in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, includes multiple dinosaur nests, eggs, hatchlings and the remains of adults for this species, Massospondylus.

Project leader Robert Reisz, a professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, told Discovery News that the dinosaur was herbivorous. Like its sauropod relatives, it had a very small head and an extremely long neck. The hatchlings walked on all fours, but adults were bipedal.

“The transition from four legs to two during an individual’s lifetime is a very unusual growth pattern that we rarely see in animals, but we do see it in humans,” Reisz said. “The largest articulated skeleton of this animal was about 6 meters (19.7 feet) in length, but they probably grew even larger.”

The discovery provides evidence for “nesting site fidelity,” according to Reisz, “as it looks like these dinosaurs liked this place and returned to it repeatedly to lay their eggs.”

It’s also the oldest evidence in the fossil record for a highly organized nest, with eggs carefully laid in a single layer.

Reisz said clues about the nest are difficult to interpret, but what’s known so far is that “the nests seem to be fairly shallow because all the eggs are in one layer,” he said. “We do not know if the nests were covered by vegetation or if they were buried because the nature of the sediments preclude the preservation of plant fossil remains. It is quite possible that the mother guarded the nests.”

Nest guarding today is fairly common among living reptiles, such as crocodiles. It’s also now known “that the hatchlings stayed around the nesting area long enough to at least grow to double in size.”

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