A 70-million-year-old nest filled with the remains of baby Protoceratops gives clues to the dinos early behavior.
THE GIST :
- The first nest of the genus Protoceratops has been found, complete with fifteen juveniles.
- Researchers believe sand entombed the dinosaur family while the members were still alive.
- The discovery suggests Protoceratops juveniles stayed and grew in the nest, receiving parental care.
A 70-million-year-old nest of the dinosaur Protoceratops andrewsi has been found with evidence that 15 juveniles were once inside it, according to a paper in the latestJournal of Paleontology.
While large numbers of eggs have been associated with other dinosaurs, such as the meat-eating Oviraptor or certain duck-billed hadrosaurs, finding multiple juveniles in the same dino nest is quite rare.
The researchers conclude that the 15 dinosaurs all show juvenile characteristics. These include short snouts, proportionately large eyes, and an absence of adult characteristics, such as the prominent horns and large frills associated with adults of this species. At least 10 of the 15 fossil sets are complete.
The nest and its contents imply that Protoceratopsjuveniles remained and grew in their nest during at least the early stages of postnatal development. The nest further implies that parental care was provided.
The large number of offspring, however, also suggests that juvenile dinosaur mortality was high, not only from predation, but also from a potentially stressful environment.
"Large clutches may have been a way of ensuring survival of the animals in that setting -- even if there was extensive parental care," Fastovsky said. "Mongolia was, at the time, a place with a variety of theropod dinosaurs, some of whom likely ate babies such as these."
"The most obvious of these, found in the same deposits, is the (in)famous Velociraptor, a smallish nasty theropod with bad breath, for whom babies such as these would have made a nice bon bon," he continued.
Yet another discovery previously found at the same locality is the famous "fighting dinosaurs" specimen in which a Protoceratops and Velociraptor appear to have been preserved together "locked in what was evidently mortal combat," Fastovsky added. Parents and other adults of the sheep-sized herbivorous species may then have spent much of their time fighting off such hungry predators.
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