A dinosaur fossil, called “Baby Louie” as he was found in China some 20 years ago, has had a rather sketchy past. It’s the fossilized remains of a Late Cretaceous dino embryo, gracing the cover of National Geographic in the 1990s while classification is still eluding it.
Now, Baby Louie had been identified as a new species of giant oviraptorosaur. The newly described species, called Beibeilong sinensis (or “baby dragon from China”), was a giant bird-like dinosaur laying eggs up to 2 feet long in nests bigger than monster truck tires.
Toward Dino Classification
A team of Chinese, Canadian, and Slovakian researchers classified the new species based on the large eggs and an associated embryo collected in the Henan province of central China in the early 1990s but were then exported to other countries.
“This particular fossil was outside the country for over 20 years,” said paleontologist Lü Junchang in a statement. “Its return to China finally allowed us to properly study the specimen and name a new dinosaur species.”
The eggs measure around 5 kilograms (11 pounds) in weight and up to 45 centimeters (18 inches) in length, emerging as some of the largest dino eggs ever found. They were discovered in a nest with a ring-shaped clutch and likely containing two dozen or more eggs.
“I imagine them as very birdlike,” described study University of Calgary paleontologist and coauthor Darla Zelenitsky, making the Beibeilong much like an oversized ostrich kin.
This new species, however, would have towered over ostriches, with adults probably measuring over 25- feet long and weighing more than 3 tons.
Solving An ‘Eggy’ Mystery
The dinosaur family it belongs to, the birdlike oviraptors, was generally quite small, though. These dinosaurs were feathered, bore wings, and had beaks closely resembling birds, and while their adult bones are unknown yet, they were estimated to have 3 tons in body mass as compared to close relatives.
Baby Louie is one of only three skeletons of giant oviraptors that have been discovered so far, although Zelenitsky said their eggs remain highly common and have been seen in China, Mongolia, Korea, and even the United States.
For a number of years, it remained a mystery as to what dinosaur specifically laid the humungous eggs and nests. Since fossilized remains of tyrannosaurs and other large theropods were also detected in Henan province rocks, there were experts who initially thought the eggs were of tyrannosaurs, Zelenitsky explained.
The fossils of the new species had a colorful journey being originally obtained from Henan by farmers in 1993 and exported to the United States afterward. The 1996 National Geographic cover made the eggs and embryo world-famous, but scientific journals had difficulty describing and naming the species until the fossils were returned to their home country.
The fossils are now permanently kept at the Henan Geological Museum. Now that they have been properly identified, scientists can better learn how the ancient animals reproduced as well as reared the young, observed Montana State University paleontologist David Varricchio, who wasn’t part of the study.
The findings were detailed in the journal Nature Communications.