INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Pterosaurs were reptiles, and the first creatures — after insects — to evolve powered flight, meaning they flapped their wings to stay aloft instead of simply jumping and gliding.
First known to exist as many as 225 million years ago, they went extinct along with the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
Until now, scientists had found some pterosaur eggs with remains inside, including three in Argentina and five in China.
But the latest report in the peer-reviewed US journal Science is based on the biggest collection to date — 215 fossilized eggs that were found in a 10-foot (three-meter) long sandstone block in northwestern China’s Hami City, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
“Since these are extremely fragile fossils, we were very surprised to find so many in the same place,” Brazilian paleontologist Alexander Kellner told AFP.
“Because of this discovery, we can talk about the behavior of these animals for the first time.”
– Needed their parents –
Sixteen of the eggs contained fossilized remains of a pterosaur species known as Hamipterus tianshanensis.
As adults, these creatures would have stood about four feet tall, with a wingspan of 11 feet.
None of the eggs held a full set of pterosaur bones, likely because pieces were lost over the years due to storms and floods.
But scientists did find partial wing and skull bones, along with one complete lower jaw, which fill in aspects of pterosaurs’ life cycle that have been poorly understood until now.
Using three-dimensional computed tomography scans, they discovered intact and well-developed thigh bones suggesting the creatures “benefited from functional hind legs shortly after hatching,” said the report.
But their chest muscles were weak.
“This shows that when pterosaurs hatched, they could walk but not fly,” said Kellner.
“They needed their parents. This is one of the biggest discoveries we have made.”