In the Qianshan Basin of East China’s Anhui province, paleontologists have uncovered two remarkable cannonball-size dinosaur eggs. These fossilized, spherical eggs are filled with calcite crystals and belong to a previously unknown dinosaur species. Out of three eggs unearthed, only two remain – the fate of the third remains a mystery, as it was “lost and still in the process of collection.” The two intact eggs have been classified as a new oospecies called Shixingoolithus qianshanensis.
A Closer Look at the Dino Egg Fossils
The eggs are described as “nearly spheroid” and roughly cannonball-size, measuring between 4.1 to 5.4 inches (105 to 137 millimeters) in length and 3.9 to 5.3 inches (99 to 134 mm) in width. One of the collected eggs was found partially broken, revealing an inner surface covered in a layer of calcite crystals. Calcite is a carbonate mineral commonly found in bird and dinosaur eggs. The crystals form when calcium carbonate separates from the eggshell structure and deposits on its internal surface as slowly growing crystals.
A Connection to Ornithopods
A prior study from 2014 suggested that Shixingoolithus eggs of a different species likely belonged to ornithopods, a group of duck-billed, herbivorous, and mostly bipedal dinosaurs. Ornithopods lived from the latter part of the Triassic period (251.9 million to 201.3 million years ago) to the late Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago). These creatures, along with other non-avian dinosaurs, were wiped out by the impact and aftermath of the Chicxulub asteroid, which slammed into the Yucatán peninsula. The subsequent cataclysmic event led to the extinction of roughly 75% of Earth’s plant and animal species.
During the Cretaceous period, East China experienced volcanic eruptions that deposited vast amounts of sediment, creating a fertile ground for fossil hunters. More than 60 species of plants, nearly 90 species of vertebrates, and around 300 species of invertebrates have been identified in China’s northwestern Liaoning province alone. These conditions are also ideal for preserving dinosaur eggs, as evidenced by the discovery of approximately 16 oofamilies and 35 oogenera in China.
The Significance of the Crystal-Filled Eggs
The discovery of the Shixingoolithus qianshanensis eggs not only highlights the rich fossil history of China but also adds to our understanding of the diverse dinosaur species that once roamed the Earth. These crystalline treasures provide a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of these ancient creatures, offering scientists a rare opportunity to unlock the mysteries of a lost world.
Resources and additional reading: Journal of Palaeogeography, Live Science
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