Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Prehistoric Family Values

Fossil hints at devoted parenting in dinosaurs
Michael Hopkin
Prehistoric familial care may explain instincts of modern birds and crocodiles.
Published online: 08 September 2004; | doi:10.1038/news040906-9

One adult dinosaur died surrounded by 34 young.
Ordinarily, I eschew the practice of posting something, just to say "this is cool." I try to post things that I have something to say about. Well, I don't have anything to say about this, except that it is pretty cool.

Fossil hunters in China have unearthed what looks like the final resting place of an adult dinosaur with 34 offspring. The unique discovery shows that at least some dinosaurs cared for their young after they hatched out, and suggests that the parental instincts of present-day birds and reptiles such as crocodiles may have a common evolutionary precursor.

In the fossilized group of horned dinosaurs called Psittacosaurus, a fully grown individual is surrounded by 34 youngsters, all huddled within an area of 0.5 square metres. It is almost certainly a family group rather than a happenstance collection of dead dinosaurs, says David Varricchio of Montana State University in Bozeman, part of the team who unearthed the bones in Liaoning, China.

"It does have that 'wow' aspect to it," he told news@nature.com. "It's more likely than not a family. It's hard to imagine [unrelated] whole skeletons being transported to the same place all together." [...]

"It is an amazing snapshot, a really nice, serendipitous finding," says Paul Barrett, a dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum in London. But he cautions that the evidence for family life remains circumstantial at this stage.

Nevertheless, the arrangement is "very suggestive of post-hatching parental care", Barrett admits. The youngsters are all around 20-centimetres long, suggesting that they represent a single brood.