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Oldest Dinosaur Nesting Site Unearthed

January 22, 2012

Reconstruction of a Massospondylus nesting site. Courtesy J. Csotonyi

Today, an international team including leader University of Toronto at Mississauga palaeontologist Dr. Robert Reisz and myself announced the discovery of the oldest known dinosaur nesting site, detailed in a article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Here we document an amazing series of newly discovered dinosaur nests, all found in 195 million year old red rocks of a small road cut in Golden Gate Highlands National Park, in South Africa.  This wealth of fossils and the documentation of the environment in which they were laid gives paleontologists our first detailed glimpse at dinosaur reproduction near the base of the dinosaur family tree, and allows us to better constrain the evolution of reproductive traits in dinosaurs as a whole. Embryos within the eggs allow us to confidently identify the dinosaur that laid them as the sauropodomorph Massospondylus– a 6 meter long plant–eater with a small head, long neck, and long tail. The new discoveries reveal ancient evidence for seemingly complex nesting behaviors, including group nesting and repeated use of a nesting site through time by a single species, which have only been well documented in Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, which existed over 100 million years after this new Early Jurassic evidence provided by Massospondylus. The evolutionary context and size of the egg clutches suggest that it is likely that Massospondylus even cared for its nests and hatched young, at least to the level that crocodiles do today.

For more information:

Visit the ROM press room here.

See the University of Toronto press release here.

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