Dinosaur Embryo Discovered

A North Carolina State University graduate student has discovered that a dinosaur egg unearthed in Alabama contains well-preserved and incredibly detailed remains of a nearly hatched dinosaur embryo. 

It is the first dinosaur egg with an embryo ever found in the eastern United States. The embryo is thought to be that of a Lophorhothan, a duck-billed dinosaur known only to have lived in the area now covered by modern-day Alabama. The embryo's leg bones are clearly visible, as is what appears to be fossilized yolk.

The 83-million-year-old egg was originally discovered by three high school students in 1970, but scientists at the time were unable to accurately determine its contents. James Lamb, a North Carolina State University graduate student who is pursuing a doctoral degree in geology, discovered the embryo after he borrowed the egg from Auburn University for a research project. While studying a part of the egg which previously had been cut away, he noticed three tiny bones. On a subsequent trip to Alabama, he arranged to have CT scans taken of the egg. The CT scans confirmed the embryo's presence and revealed the orientation of its bones. 

Lamb then began manually removing them, using a buffered acid bath to dissolve the surrounding rock. 

Only through an extraordinary set of circumstances did the egg survive, he says, since most dinosaur-age terrestrial deposits in the eastern United States have long since eroded. 

Lamb theorizes the egg was washed out to sea during an ancient hurricane. Eventually, the pores that supplied air to the embryo allowed sea water to fill the egg, and it sank, settling into chalk sediments on the ocean floor. Because chalk particles are so tiny, fossils preserved in them reveal much more delicate features than those preserved in grittier sediments. Chalk's alkalinity also helps buffer the fossils against destructive acids. 

The egg is believed to be the only one in the world preserved in marine sediments. 

The embryo in the egg may yield new information about, among other things, dinosaurs' diets. "If you've got organic material present, which we apparently do in this case, you can apply isotopic techniques to learn about diet," Lamb said. "We know that this guy was a vegetarian, but it's possible that isotopes will tell us if his mother ate ferns, conifers or hardwood vegetation." 

In studying the egg, Lamb has determined that its home was much like the Outer Banks of North Carolina and that carbon dioxide levels in its atmosphere would have been four times higher than current levels. Such studies can reveal useful information about how higher carbon dioxide levels or global warming can affect our environment today, he says. 

When Lamb's research is complete, the egg will be displayed at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences before being returned to the Auburn University Natural History Learning Center. 

Source: Bulletin Online at NC State

Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky
by Jack Horner.
Mountain Press Publishing Co., 2001

During the Mesozoic era of geologic time, from about 230 to 64 million years ago, much of what is now Montana was a coastal plain like the Mississippi delta region. When sea levels rose, the area was covered by a shallow sea; when they receeded, plants and animals repopulated the land.

Among those living creatures were dozens of species of dinosaurs, whose remains have made Montana -- the "Big Sky" state -- a popular destination for paleontologists.

The first dinosaur remains in the Western Hemisphere were discovered in Montana, as were the world's first discoveries of dinosaur eggshells, the nests of baby dinosaurs and dinosaur embryos.

Many of those discoveries were made by Jack Horner, the author of this unique natural history and field guide to Montana's dinosaurs. Each of the dinosaurs found in Montana are described in detail, along with the history of their discovery. Horner explains where dinosaur remains have been found, and where more are likely to be discovered, and offers advice for amateur dinosaur-hunters.

"Collecting dinosaur fossils is not only fun but also a great excuse to get outside, enjoy spectacular landscapes, and breathe some fresh air," Horner points out.

"In Montana, most dinosaur fossils come from areas of badlands, where erosion eats away at hillsides faster than plants can grow on them. Many people consider these badlands desolate and bleak, but paleontologists find them extraordinary and peaceful."

Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings and photos of fossils and complemented with paintings of how dinosaur life may have appeared, this book is a valuable reference for amateur collectors, paleontologists and others interests in Montana's dinosaurs.

More on dinosaurs
Dinosaurs Nature Activity Book
Dinosaurs Nature Activity Book: by James Kavanagh. A Pocket Naturalist Activity Book series title. Illustrated by Raymond Leung.
Dinosaurs: by Jo Ellen Moore. Learning Horizons, The Science Series title. Grade 2-3. Illustrated by Eric Jepson.

Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, Controversy, & the Last Days of the Dinosaurs

Starring T. Rex! Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture. Spanish paleontologist and dinosaur enthusiast Jose Luis Sanz analyzes the sociocultural phenomenon of dinosaurs.

Bonebeds: Genesis, Analysis, and Paleobiological Significance
by Raymond R. Rogers, David A. Eberth and Anthony R. Fiorillo.

back out there