SHELL OF A FIND: Scientists Find Massive Haul Of 80-Million-Year-Old Titanosaur Eggs

Scientists have unearthed the first titanosaur nesting site in Brazil after they found about 20 of these massive, 80-million-year-old dinosaur eggs.

The dinosaur egg nest, which dates back to the Cretaceous period, which ended in an extinction-level event, when Earth is believed to have been hit by a large meteor, was discovered in an abandoned limestone mine in the rural area of Ponte Alta, which is about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the centre of the city of Uberaba, in the south-eastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

The rare find was made by Joao Ismael da Silva, who works for the Cultural Foundation of the Municipality of Uberaba and who is also a palaeontology technician at the ‘Llewellyn Ivor Price’ Paleontological Research Centre (CPPLIP) at the Peiropolis Cultural and Scientific Complex, at the Federal University of Triangulo Mineiro (UFTM), also in Uberaba.

Selected titanosaurian eggs and egg-clutches collected from the Late Cretaceous Serra da Galga Formation (Bauru Group) at Ponto Alta nesting site, Uberaba Municipality, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. (a) CPPLIP 1798, best-preserved recovered egg-clutch, bottom view. (b) CPPLIP 1801, isolated egg, with accompanying tomographic slice, showing thickness of the shell and its sedimentary fill. (c) CPPLIP 1799, egg-clutch with accompanying tomographic slice, showing thickness of the shell, shells collapsed and its sedimentary fill. (d,e) CPPLIP 1800, two eggs found associated. (f) CPPLIP 1804 isolated partial egg. Scale bars 5 cm. (Dr Agustin G. Martinelli/Newsflash)

The discovery took place in the 1990s, but the results of the analysis of the fossilised eggs has just been published now, over 20 years later.

The study was authored by palaeontologists Luiz Carlos Borges Ribeiro and Thiago Marinho, also from the UFTM, and their Argentine colleagues Lucas Fiorelli and Agustin Martinelli, from the Regional Centre for Scientific Research in La Rioja and the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences.

Newsflash obtained a statement from Martinelli, in which he said that the discovery was “exceptional”. And Da Silva is quoted in the statement as saying: “In the 1990s, I became aware of the occurrence of dinosaur eggs in Ponte Alta. In conversation with friends of mine who worked in limestone mining, I was able to recover some isolated eggs and, finally, an association of ten spherical eggs.”

CT scans of the best-preserved egg-clutch (CPPLIP 1798). (a) 3D rendering of the bottom of the clutch in CPPLIP 1798. (b) General view of the clutch at the same orientation, showing the external part of the lower hemisphere of the eggs. (c) Top view of the lower egg row, showing the inner part of the lower hemisphere of the eggs. (d) Lateral view of CPPLIP 1798, showing lower egg row with higher shells at both ends and part of the upper egg row. In dark orange, eggshell fragments within the eggs. Note that the incompleteness (“holes”) of some eggs in B and C are due to the lack of the eggshells and/or poor resolution of the CT scan. In A the shape of each egg is maintained due to the sedimentary internal mold. Scale bar 10 cm. (Dr Agustin G. Martinelli/Newsflash)

The statement also reveals that “this is the first dinosaur nesting site found in Brazil where about 20 eggs measuring 12 centimetres in diameter were found.

“From the characteristics of the shells and egg associations, it was possible to compare them with fossils from other parts of the world, mainly from Argentina, and it was possible to identify that the dinosaurs that laid these eggs belong to the titanosaur group.”

Marinho is quoted as saying: “Titanosaurs were the largest land animals of all time. They were quadrupeds, fed on plants and had a small head and a long neck.”

Transmitted light microscopic views of radial thin section of eggshell fragments from Ponte Alta nesting site showing the fan-shaped eggshell units. (a,b) Eggshells from CPPLIP 1798 clutch. (c,d) Eggshells from CPPLIP 1800 and 1801, respectively. The base of a group of eggshell units may develop “football boot-studs” shape. The matrix infilling of the eggs are represented by the sand and clayey matrix visible at the bottom of the eggshells. eis eroded internal surface, ns nodular surface, pc pore canal, si silicification, sph spherulite, su shell unit. Scale bar 1 mm. (Dr Agustin G. Martinelli/Newsflash)

He added that the titanosaurs of Uberaba varied in size, with their lengths ranging from 10 to 26 metres (33 to 85 feet) in length.

The dinosaurs would bury approximately 10 eggs at a time, in what is known as a brood, in order for the temperature to remain controlled until the babies hatched, not unlike many reptiles today.

Fiorelli said that the study brings a new vision to the study of fossilised eggs and, according to Luiz Carlos Borges Ribeiro, “this study reinforces the importance of the municipality of Uberaba in the field of palaeontology, notably of dinosaurs, and strengthens the relevance of the Uberaba Geopark Project with UNESCO”.

Model of events of titanosaur egg laying in two levels (L1 and L2), preservation, and subsequent sedimentation in the Ponte Alta nesting site. (a) First level of eggs. (b) Repeated selection of the laying area (by philopatry or breeding-site fidelity), excavation, and laying the eggs. (c) Covered eggs and a new deposition. (Dr Agustin G. Martinelli/Newsflash)

Remains belonging to titanosaurs have been found all over the world. They were a diverse group of dinosaurs and the last of the long-necked sauropods, believed to have been wiped out in the extinction-level at the end of the Cretaceous period. The Cretaceous is a geological period that stretched from approximately 145 to 66 million years ago.

The discovery and the resulting findings have been published in the academic journal Scientific Reports.

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