In a story right out of Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece, scientists have recently announced an astounding discovery – a brilliantly preserved dinosaur embryo from up to 72 million years ago.

Here’s a close look at an artist’s rendition, made by the team at the University of Birmingham.

Dinosaur Embryo

Belonging to a species named Oviraptorosaur, the fossil was discovered in Ganzhou, southern China. As the paleontology world’s latest darling, it’s even been christened with a name – ‘Baby Yingliang’.

A Fascinating New Discovery

Dinosaur Embryo

“It is one of the best dinosaur embryos ever found in history,” University of Birmingham researcher Fion Waisum Ma, who co-authored a paper in the journal iScience, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

Ma and her team discovered the little dino in a unique position as well. As one of the later species of dinosaurs, Baby Yingliang was discovered in a unique posture, with its feet on either side and back curled. This has never been observed in dinosaurs but is similar to how birds are positioned within their eggs.

This position is called ‘tucking’, and helps the baby animal effectively hatch. Older, less evolved creatures have a higher rate of hatching deaths.

According to Ma, “This indicates that such behaviour in modern birds first evolved and originated among their dinosaur ancestors.”

What Would A Grown-Up Baby Yingliang Look Like?

Baby Yingliang measures about 27cm (10.6 inches) long from head to tail and lies inside a 17cm- (6.6 inch)-long egg at the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum.

As an Oviraptorosaur or ‘egg thief lizard’, its species was a quick, feathered scavenger – first documented nearly 100 years ago by American paleontologists.

Here’s a great CGI reconstruction of the dino produced by BBC Earth:

While it isn’t clear how large Yingliang would have grown, the species has fossils that range from the size of turkeys to that of massive 8-meter long beasts. The team estimates that the baby dino may have grown two or three meters long if it survived to adulthood, with a mainly plant-based diet.

“This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen,” said Professor Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, part of the research team, in a statement.

“This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.”

The team at the University of Birmingham is hard at work, aiming to reconstruct the little creature’s skeleton using sophisticated imaging techniques. 

While it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing real-life examples soon, it’s a big win for dinosaur enthusiasts around the world, and a reminder of how amazing our natural sciences can be.

(Image Sources: Universal Pictures, University of Birmingham/Lida Xing)