Monday, 21 November 2011

A Hoard Of Juvenile Protoceratops Still Within The Nest

The remarkable, 70 million year old fossils of the juvenile Protoceratops
Dinosaur eggs and complete skeletons are some of the most highly prised fossils that can be found. Fossils found from the Cretaceous deserts of Mongolia are some of the most well preserved on Earth. Sometimes these two desirable qualities come together. One famous example is the 'Fighting Dinosaurs,' the skeletons of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops locked in battle. The two were buried in a sandstorm, leaving behind their perfectly preserved corpses.

Now a new Mongolian fossil has been discovered: a nest of newly hatched Protoceratops that are preserved within the confines of the ancient nest. A team of palaeontologists led by Dr David Fastovsky from the University of Rhode Island's Department of Geosciences discovered the remarkable find at the Djadochta Formation, Tugrikinshire, Mongolia. The 70 million year old nest measured 70 centimetres in diameter. Inside were no less than 15 Protoceratops andrewsi babies, 10 of which were complete.

The dinosaurs were quickly identified as juveniles due to the lack of adult features such as horns or prominent frills. A separate study of the fossils conducted by Dr Lars Schmitz from UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology has found that Protoceratops, alongside various other Mongolian dinosaurs, were adapted to be active both day and night in order to be aware of nearby predators, an ecological image perfectly captured in the 'Fighting Dinosaurs' specimen.

'Large clutches may have been a way of ensuring survival of the animals in that setting, even if there was extensive parental care,' says Fastovsky. 'Mongolia was, at the time, a place with a variety of theropod dinosaurs, some of whom likely ate babies such as these...this story certainly isn't your parents' dinosaurs-living-in-the-lush-Cretaceous-steaming-jungles that was in vogue a generation or two ago,' says Fastovsky. 'We now know that dinosaurs lived everywhere and did just about everything terrestrial.'