Dinosaurs were doting parents

These tracks tell a story.
They crisscross slabs of sedimentary rock, the spoor so old, they are set in stone.

A footprint left by a baby Massospondylus

What it is is baby dinosaur spoor, 190 million years old, some so small they had just fought their way out of eggs.
In a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists claim they have found the oldest nesting site and with it, the earliest known nursery.
This nesting ground is more than 100 million years older than previously known sites. And it is believed they were used over long periods of time.

Massospondylus carinatus, a prosauropod from t...

This is what mama looked like. Image via Wikipedia

The nests, comprising of eggs, embryos and the spoor, were excavated at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. They belonged to a prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus, a beast so common, they were like the Impala of their day.
But it is that spoor that reveals that these dinosaurs might have been great parents.
Palaeontologist Dr Adam Yates studied the spoor and found that there was a mix of prints, of different sizes.
There were the tiny spoor of the presumed hatchlings, then bigger prints. Those bigger prints, he explained weren’t adult sized. The hypothesis the authors of the paper put forward is that the larger footprints belonged to bigger baby dinosaurs that had hung around the nesting site. But why?
“They were probably been provisioned by their parents,” explains Adam.
Baby Massospondylus were toothless, so it could be that their parents did what birds do today, they regurgitated food for them.
As they got bigger, perhaps with a set of teeth, they left the nursery and headed out into rough and tumble world of what paleaontologists now classify as the Upper Elliot, an age 200 million years ago.

About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in dinosaurs, palaeontology, science. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dinosaurs were doting parents

  1. You know, the funny thing is that I never much seem to pay much attention to prosauropods, or other ancestors during that time.

    Of course, there’s always been the Triassic, and Coelophysis, but there’s a whole period there I never paid close attention to; the whole period between the early Triassic (as seen in Walking with Dinosaurs) and the Jurassic.

    But I looked up the Upper Elliot, which you weren’t clear about. It was around until 190 million years ago, the same time as the Massospondylus, from 210 million years ago. It is also a geographical location, unlike what you made it sound like (a name of an ancient landscape, such as Gondwana, or the Tethys Sea).


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