Brooding Dinosaurs

Fossil nestThe Gobi Desert has offered up some very intriguing fossil dinosaurs. This odd looking ball of bones, still partly surrounded in the plaster cast put on by scientists who excavated it, doesn’t look like much at first but it tells an incredible story. These are the remains of a parent dinosaur that sat on a nest full of eggs and perished in a sandstorm. The sand covering the nest and adult turned to stone over the 80 million years since the tragic end of the dino family.

When the scientists took the fossil nest back to their labs and began scratching away the encasing rock, an unexpected scene was brought to light. Here was a dinosaur sitting on a nest of eggs in just the way a parent bird would sit on its brood. This is one of the reasons dinosaurs have lately been described by scientists as being decidedly more bird-like than lizard-like. You can see several eggs of the clutch of a dozen or so the creature, an oviraptor, was sheltering. At the upper right, you can clearly see how the arm reaches around to enfold the egg clutch in a brooding bird-like embrace.

Feathers covering eggsThis fossil was a hot item in the paleontology community when Mark Orsen and I decided to get involved and publish one of our contributions to the world of real science. We wrote a scientific paper with the following suggestion: although the nest fossil preserves only bones and egg shells, perhaps the parent Oviraptor had feathers as well. We pointed out that the eggs wrapped by the adult’s arm would have been exposed from above to the heat of the sun or the chill of a desert rainstorm, either one of which could have been fatal to the delicate embryonic dinosaurs within them. Mark drew this picture to illustrate how a set of bird-like wing feathers might have offered the shelter that seems lacking in the original fossil.

We presented our concept at several scientific meetings and it was received well enough that we were invited to publish it in a book about dino-bird evolution called Feathered Dragons. You can download a copy of our original article by clicking here (it’s a big pdf file).

Ultimately, the exact way dinosaurs developed feathers and evolved into birds will only be determined by many more discoveries in the fossil beds of the world. Until then, it’s the role of science fiction writers like me to flesh out the theories with some believable stories in which these breaking scientific news items can get a public viewing. That was a major motivation behind my creating Gar the Kra and his nest-sitting mate Gana. Through them, I can explore notions of how such creatures behaved, how they nested, and how they cared for their young. My Dinosaur Wars novels represent an extension of what is truly known about dinosaurs into the realm of speculation. I’m fortunate to be able to make contributions on both sides of the science / fiction divide.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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