An exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo has been discovered in a fossilised egg.
The specimen was found in Ganzhou, southern China, and is one of the most complete dinosaur embryos ever unearthed.
The embryo has been named Baby Yingliang and it is thought to be between 72 to 66 million years old.
That’s one old baby.
The skeleton led researchers to conclude it was an oviraptorid, which is basically a two-legged birdy type of dinosaur.
The egg is 17cm-long and 8cm-wide, and the skeleton itself is 24cm in length.
Baby Yingliang was first found in Shahe Industrial Park in 2000 and donated to Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum, in Nan’an.
If you’re wondering why you’re only hearing about it now, that’s because the egg was gathering dust in a store room until 2015, when a staff member noticed bones sticking out of the shell.
Sensing the contents of the egg could be worth exploring, they contacted experts at the University of Birmingham, who have just published a study about their findings.
Fion Waisum Ma, joint first author and PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham, said: “Dinosaur embryos are some of the rarest fossils and most of them are incomplete with the bones dislocated.
“We are very excited about the discovery of Baby Yingliang – it is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it.
“It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviours.”
Soon before hatching, birds are known to adopt tucking postures, whereby they tuck their heads under their wings, and embryos which fail to have a higher chance of dying due to unsuccessful hatching.
The study of Baby Yingliang – who strikes a similar pose – suggests that this behaviour may have evolved from dinosaurs tens or hundreds of millions of years ago.
University of Edinburgh’s Professor Steve Brusatte – who was part of the research team – said: “This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen.
“This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”