Eight-metre dinosaur with feathers and beak discovered

Rodiano Bonacci
Mag 10, 2017

When National Geographic ran a story about the Chinese egg trade in 1996, this big egg, known as "Baby Louie" in honor of its photographer Louis Psihoyos, was featured on the cover.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many dinosaur eggs dating from the late Cretaceous (89-100 million years ago) were unearthed in China. This fleshed-out representation of a pebbly brown reptile, though, was a guess.

Publicly identifying Baby Louie took two decades. The fossil remained more than twenty years in private hands outside China, and scientists were reluctant to publish research about it.

Palaeontologists have called it Beibeilong sinensis, which translates to "Chinese baby dragon". A chunk of the nest made its way to the United States. "We had a giant species that was able to lay these giant eggs", Zelenitsky says. "The only problem was that these eggs were way too big-about eight to 10 times larger than any known oviraptor!". "I honestly don't know what the laws were".

Even a whiff of impropriety was enough to deter scientists. The uncertainty around the legal status of the fossil slowed down scientists.

Currie said it was lucky such well-preserved eggs were found.

The Beibelongembryo nicknamed Baby Louie. A scientific paper on the fortuitous find was published Tuesday in the open-access journal Nature Communications.

Archaeologists knew Baby Louie was some kind of oviraptorosaur, a two-legged, birdlike dinosaur.

Determining what an adult animal looked like from an infant can be tricky business.

Darla Zelenitsky, a Canadian paleontologist who co-authored the study, told AFP that the Beibeilong would have looked like an "overgrown cassowary", a flightless bird resembling an emu.

Scientists based their research on skeletal features that are typically constant during the dinosaur's maturation, like the toothless jaw. Playing off a famous phrase applied to a smaller oviraptorosaur, Holtz described Beibeilong as "a chicken from Hell on steroids".

Everything about Baby Louie was supersize.

They also likely sat on their nests like birds, Zelenitsky said. The little dino had probably been squished out of its egg before it hatched. Now Louie is back home in the Henan Province, in the Henan Geological Museum. The Indianapolis Children's Museum then bought it from the dealers and put it on display for around 12 years. Still the paleontologists waited. "Had it just showed up on somebody's coffee table we never would have learned anything". In February 2015, five paleontologists accompanied one of the farmers to western Henan Province, to examine the original excavation site. There they found additional oviraptorosaur egg fragments.

By the late 1990s scientists had already identified that the fossil was an oviraptorosaur but they failed to identify a specific species. Before this finding, Zelenitsky calculated that an adult Beibeilong probably weighed around at least 3,300 pounds, which is in the low range for an adult Gigantoraptor.

Both Zelenitsky and Makovicky are happy to finally see Beibeilong sinensis officially join the family of giant oviraptorosaurs. But an adult B. sinensis would have towered over the 6.5-foot-tall (2 m) cassowary, and even a typical oviraptorosaur, such as Oviraptor, Zelenitsky said. Many fossils collected illegally - hypothetically speaking - tend to disappear, she said.

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