Fossil of 3-D Eggs Provide Insight of Ancient Flying Reptile (Reuters)
Fossil of 3-D Eggs Provide Insight of Ancient Flying Reptile (Reuters)Reuters

Researchers have discovered an ancient reptile's three-dimensional preserved eggs from China. This is for the first time that eggs of prehistoric flying creature have been found in intact condition and the winged reptile is believed to have lived over 100 million years ago.

Five of undamaged eggs along with more than a dozen adult fossils have been uncovered that belong to a new kind of pterosaur – a group of ancient winged reptiles that lived during the time of dinosaurs. The group included some of the largest flying creatures that ever existed. The animal gets the new scientific name, Hamipterus tianshanensis.

"We found a lot of pterosaur bones which belong to different individuals in the sites, with five eggs," Live Science quoted Xiaolin Wang, study researcher and a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Until now, the fossil records of pterosaur were poor and archaeologists have discovered only four damaged or flattened pterosaur eggs. 

The team of researchers uncovered the fossil remains from the Turpan-Hami Basin, located south of the Tian Shan Mountains in Xinjiang, in northwestern China. Researchers believe that thousands of other fossil bones may also be buried where skulls and eggs of adult pterosaurs were found.

"This is definitely the most important pterosaur site ever found. One of the significant (aspects) of this discovery - hundreds of individuals and eggs together from one site - is that it confirmed that pterosaurs were gregarious, and the population size is surprisingly large," Reuters quoted paleontologist Zhonghe Zhou, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The newly discovered creature probably had been buried in a storm that occurred around 120 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous period, according to Wang.

The team found that the eggs were pliable and soft with thin but hard outer layer and a soft but thick inner membrane similar to that of snake eggs. The pterosaurs most likely covered their eggs in sandy shore in a prehistoric lake that prevented them from drying out, explained the researchers.

They also found many adult pterosaur fossils close to the eggs. The team analyzed 40 male and female adult pterosaur and found differences in their shapes and sizes. The fossils also suggests that they lived together in huge social crowd and that it belonged to gregarious colonies as they had not been transported far from where it originated.

Pterosaur were flying vertebrates like birds and bats of modern day but had different kind of wings. While birds have joined palms and feathers, bats and pterosaurs have membranes in between fingers.

The details of the findings have been published on 5 June 2014 in the journal Current Biology.