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These dinosaurs had a facial horn, binocular vision, and nasal openings after hatching from the egg. These traits were transformed with the passage of adulthood, according to research published in the journalCurrent Biology.
25 years ago, a team of researchers discovered at the siteby Auca Mahuevo (Argentine Patagonia) the first dinosaur embryos in a huge nesting area for titanosaurid dinosaurs, which lived 80 million years ago.
Now, a work published in the last issue ofCurrent Biology describes the first almost intact embryonic skull of a sauropodomorph, a group of dinosaurs characterized by a long neck and tail and a small head. Among them, the brontosaurus is the most popular example. Research suggests that these animals may have had specialized facial features in their breeding stage that changed when they became adults.
Martin Kundrát, lead scientist of the article and head of the PaleoBioImaging Lab at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University (Slovakia), assures that this studied specimen "represents the first embryonic skull preserved in 3D of a sauropodomorphic sauropod".
“The most prominent feature ishead appearance, which implies that the offspring of giant dinosaurs can present differences depending on where and how they lived in their first stages of life ", emphasizes Kundrát, who does not rule out that this skull represents anew species of a titanosaurid dinosaur "due to the differences it presents in facial anatomy and size with respect to the embryos of sauropods from Auca Mahuevo."
Kundrát's team has used an innovative imaging technology calledsynchrotron microtomography, which allows to study the internal structure of bones, teeth and soft tissues.
Thanks to these scans, somehidden details of the specimen, as small teeth preserved in tiny cavities of the jaw, partially calcified elements of the embryonic brain and possible remains of the temporal muscles of the jaw.
In this way, the researchers have been able to reconstruct the most plausible appearance of what the skull of sauropods looks like before they hatch from their egg. These details, the scientists explain, are useful to performtaxonomies or evolutionary comparisons between similar dinosaurs.
An alternate appearance of these Patagonian giants
This discovery suggests that sauropods could hatch from their eggs with the help of a species ofepidermal prominence. Similarly, it is also evidenced that these embryonic dinosaurs used calcium derived from shells long before they were ready to hatch.
Kundrát explains that these discoveries suggest that sauropods had an "alternate appearance" of the head in their youngest stage. Thus, they conclude that the hatchlings came out of the shell presenting ahorn temporary, retracted openings in the nose and early binocular vision. On the other hand, the work suggests that young sauropods had a head and face that transformed with theirmaturation adult.
This finding, explains the lead researcher, "reveals new aspects of the embryonic life of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs that have ever lived on our planet." A facial horn and binocular vision "are very different characteristics from what we expected in titanosaurid dinosaurs," he adds.
“To me, dinosaur eggs are liketime capsules that send a message from the past. In this case, the specimen tells us a story of the Patagonian giants before they were born ”, concludes the principal investigator.
From illegal export to important scientific material
This new specimen of dinosaur embryo is, like the embryos discovered 25 years ago, from Patagonia, although its specific origin isunknown because the egg wasillegally exported from Argentina and came to the attention of researchers later.
WhenTerry manning, co-author of the work, realized the scientific importance and extraordinary conservation of the specimen, sent this fossil back to Argentina for further studies.
Currently, the fossil is preserved byRodolfo Coria, co-author of this work and researcher of Paleobiology and Geology at the Carmen Funes Municipal Museum (Argentina).
Kundrat et al .: "Specialized Craniofacial Anatomy of a Titanosaurian Embryo from Argentina".Current Biology.