Science

Antarctic find world's second-biggest egg

Antarctic find world's second-biggest egg”

For years it was nicknamed "The Thing" because the scientists didn't know what it was, but after sitting in a miscellaneous box at the Natural History Museum in Chile for nearly a decade, someone finally had an idea.

However, experts at the University of Texas at Austin have analysed the fossil, and discovered it is a giant, soft-shell egg from about 66 million years ago. And, taking various data of that sort, the size of the egg versus adult body size, you can perform an equation of how they change and project, make an estimation, of what the size of the mosasaur was, the giant lizard, that laid the egg.

The find is also the largest soft-shelled egg ever discovered, and the second-largest egg of any known animal to date, smaller only than that of the extinct elephant bird, which looked like an enormous ostrich.

"It is from an animal the size of a large dinosaur, but it is completely unlike a dinosaur egg, " lead author Lucas Legendre, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, said in a news release.

"It is most similar to the eggs of lizards and snakes, but it is from a truly giant relative of these animals", he said.

"I showed it to her and, after a few minutes, Julia told me it could be a deflated egg!" For example, the area where the egg was discovered also has remnant fossils of baby and adult mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, suggesting that the surrounding rock formation may have served as a "nursery site".

For many years, experts have believed dinosaurs only laid hard-shelled eggs, based on those found in the fossil record.

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An artist's interpretation of a mosasaur, an extinct marine reptile that scientists think may have laid the egg.

Its eggshell is very thin and poorly mineralised, like in the eggs of lizard and snakes."The only creatures in Antarctica at that time large enough to lay such an egg were seagoing reptiles: the marine lizards called mosasaurs and the long-necked plesiosaurs". In both size and living reptile relations, an ancient marine reptile fits the bill.

But Mark Norell, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, said the discovery of a group of fossilised embryonic Protoceratops dinosaurs in Mongolia made him revisit the assumption.

By doing so, the reptile which laid the ancient egg would have had to be more than 20 feet long from the tip of its snout to the end of its body, not counting a tail. However, it is unknown if the egg was laid on land or at sea.

The researchers studied embryo-containing fossil eggs belonging to two species of dinosaur.

Because soft egg shells are more sensitive to water loss and offer little protection against mechanical stressors, such as a brooding parent, the researchers propose that they were probably buried in moist soil or sand and then incubated with heat from decomposing plant matter, similar to some reptile eggs today. The other involves the reptile depositing the eggs on a beach and hatchlings scuttling into the ocean like baby sea turtles.

"We can't exclude the idea that they shoved their tail end up on shore because nothing like this has ever been discovered", Professor Clarke said.



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