Modern Birds Inherited Colored Eggs from Their Dinosaur Ancestors, Study Says | Paleontology

Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg

Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg

So colored eggs could blend in better with the nest, giving them a better chance for survival. So she and some colleagues studied 66-million-year-old egg fossils, searching for the two pigments - a red one and a blue one - that are known to mix and match in bird eggs, creating all of the lovely colors.

No hint of pigment was detected in the eggs of several herbivorous long-necked sauropods or a duck-billed dinosaur Maiasaura, suggesting these species-which are on more distant branches of the dinosaur family tree-had white eggs that they buried in the ground like modern-day turtles.

"Some were uniformly colored", said paleontologist and study co-author Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History in NY.

Egg colors of archosaurs: the internal nodes are (1) Archosauria, (2) Dinosauria, (3) Ornithischia, (4) Saurischia, (5) Eumaniraptora, (6) Paraves and (7) Aves; the egg icon in the phylogeny labels Eumaniraptora.

"The egg colors of birds reflect characteristic preferences in nesting environments and brooding behaviors", Yale explained. Additionally, the mechanisms by which the eggs received their color seems to be identical between birds we see today and dinosaurs from millions of years ago. As part of a new study, published recently in the journal Nature, Wiemann and her colleagues expanded their research to include eggshells from 15 Cretaceous dinosaurs and extinct birds, along with the eggs of living birds like chickens, emus and terns, reports John Pickrell of Science. According to a new scientific report, dinosaurs also invented - or, if you want to get technical, first evolved - eggs of different colors.

For an instance, the predator named Deinonychus had a blue egg with brown blotches and the bird-like Oviraptor, famous for its toothless beak, had eggs that were dark blue in colour. That was intriguing. Still, it was just one dinosaur.

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"We infer that egg color co-evolved with open nesting habits in dinosaurs", Wiemann said. The researchers will now need a larger sample of eggshells to analyze.

The red-brown and blue-green pigments were present, however, in eggshells from the group of dinosaurs that includes birds and their close relatives. The analysis revealed spotted and speckled patterns, deposited in a very similar fashion to what is observed in modern bird eggs. They also describe "identical mechanisms of pigment deposition in nonavian and avian dinosaur eggs".

"Dinosaur eggs could have been camouflaged, they could have been individually recognized, they could have been mimetic", says Hauber. Scientists used to think colored egg shells evolved with modern birds.

Most likely, it was a single event, even of uncertain mutation, which caused accumulation of biliverdin in the shell and made the eggs for the beginning of blue-green.

JASMINA WIEMANN: This dinosaur is particularly interesting because oviraptors were the first dinosaurs that built open nests. And the presence of speckling raises the possibility there may have been nest parasites long before the appearance of birds - the cuckoo dinosaur.

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