Dinosaur eggs were soft, new study says

A recent paleontological discovery unearthed two nests of dinosaur eggs, a 200 million-year-old (one of the oldest known) of a species called Mussaurus, and a 75- million-year-old of a completely different group of dinosaurs, Protoceratops. The findings were published in Nature journal last June [1].

The curious thing about these dinosaur eggs is the fact that they are made of soft shell, whereas most dinosaurs eggs known to date have a hard shell. Not only is the fossilization of soft tissues exceptional, but the fact that they have associated embryos makes this discovery even more fascinating. The photo above shows a Protoceratops nest with embryos curled up inside soft-shelled eggs.

Using Raman spectrometry, palaeontologists were able to characterize the chemistry of the shells that still preserve original proteins. This type of material characterization is widely used for multiple purposes and similar techniques are also implemented by the Materials Characterisation Group at IPFN.

Fossil materials can be chemically characterized to help palaeontologists understand their origin and the influence of the fossilization process. A few years ago, IPFN palaeontologist Ricardo Araújo used multiple material characterization techniques to understand how well preserved were the 150-million-year-old embryo-containing dinosaur eggshells that were discovered in Portugal.

Commenting for Science journal [2], Ricardo Araújo says that this latest discovery emphasizes “how little we know about the incredible diversity of dinosaur reproduction strategies.”

1. Mark A. Norell et al., The first dinosaur egg was soft, Nature 583, 406 (2020)

2. Researchers say they’ve solved the mystery of the missing dinosaur eggs, Science