An exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo has been found curled up inside a fossilised egg, unearthed in southern China, dating back some 66–72 million years.

The embryo has been dubbed ‘Baby Yingliang’ and was found in the rocks of the ‘Hekou Formation’ at the Shahe Industrial Park in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province. 

Palaeontologists led from the University of Birmingham said that Baby Yingliang belonged to species of toothless, beaked theropod dinosaurs, or ‘oviraptorosaurs’.

The feathered Oviraptors can be found among the rocks in Asia and North America. They have a variety of body shapes and sizes, which allows them to eat a broad range of foods.

It is one of the best known specimens of a dinosaur embryo. The fossil has an unusually upright posture, closer to that seen in embryonic bird embryos than in dinosaurs.

Baby Yingliang was nearing hatching and had his head down, with its back curled in the egg’s blunt ends and its feet positioned to either side. 

In modern birds, such a posture is assumed during ‘tucking’ — an embryo behaviour controlled by the central nervous system that is critical for a successful hatching.

The discovery of such behaviour in Baby Yingliang suggests that this is not unique to birds, but may instead have first evolved among the non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

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An exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo has been found curled up inside a fossilised egg (pictured), unearthed in southern China, dating back some 66–72 million years

 An exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo has been found curled up inside a fossilised egg (pictured), unearthed in southern China, dating back some 66–72 million years

Palaeontologists led from the University of Birmingham said that Baby Yingliang (depicted in this artist's impression) belonged to species of toothless, beaked theropod dinosaurs

According to Palaeontologists from Birmingham, Baby Yingliang was a member of a species of theropod dinosaurs.

BABY YINGLIANG STATISTICS  

Age: 72–66 million years old

Locality: Ganzhou City, China

Type: Oviraptorosaur

Length: 10.6” (27 cm) head-to-tail

Size of eggs: 6.7” (17 cm) -long

Fion Waisum Ma, University of Birmingham vertebrate paleontologist and her associates conducted the study. 

Ms Ma explained that dinosaur embryos were some of the scarcest fossils. Most of these are missing with dislocated bones.

‘We are very excited about the discovery of “Baby Yingliang” — it is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it.

“It’s interesting to observe this embryo of a dinosaur and one from a chicken in the egg. This could indicate similar prehatching behaviors.”

Baby Yingliang takes its nickname from the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in Xiamen, among whose fossil collections it is held.

Researchers believe the embryonic oviraptorosaur measured 10.6 inches (27cm) in length from head to tail but that it was growing inside a 6.7-inch (17cm) long egg. 

‘This embryo of a dinosaur was purchased by Mr Liang Liu of Yingliang Group as suspected eggs fossils around 2000’, said Lida Xing, a paper author and palaeontologist at the China University of Geosciences, Beijing.

During construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum, in 2010, museum staff sorted through storage to find the specimens.

“These fossils have been identified as dinosaur egg fossils. A fossil preparation was performed and finally the embryo inside the egg was revealed. 

“This is how Baby Yingliang was discovered.”

The specimen is one of the most complete dino embryos known and notably sports a posture closer to those seen in embryonic birds than usually found in dinosaurs. Specifically, Baby Yingliang — who was close to hatching — had its head below its body, its back curled into the egg's blunt end and its feet positioned either side of it

It is one of the best known embryos from a dinosaur and it has an unusual posture. This position is closer than that seen in embryonic bird embryos. Specifically, Baby Yingliang — who was close to hatching — had its head below its body, its back curled into the egg’s blunt end and its feet positioned either side of it

'It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo (pictured) and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviours,' said vertebrate palaeontologist Fion Waisum Ma of the University of Birmingham

Fion Waisum Ma, University of Birmingham vertebrate paleontologist, said that it was interesting to observe a dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo posing in the same way within the egg. This could indicate similar prehatching behaviours.

‘This dinosaur embryo inside its egg is one of the most beautiful fossils I have ever seen,’ said paper co-author and vertebrate palaeontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh.

‘This little prenatal dinosaur looks just like a baby bird curled in its egg, which is yet more evidence that many features characteristic of today’s birds first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors.’

Full results of the study have been published in the journal iScience.

The embryo — which has been dubbed 'Baby Yingliang' — was found in the rocks of the 'Hekou Formation' at the Shahe Industrial Park in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province

The embryo — which has been dubbed ‘Baby Yingliang’ — was found in the rocks of the ‘Hekou Formation’ at the Shahe Industrial Park in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province

HOW THE DINOSAURS DISAPPEARED 66 MILLION YESTERS AGO

Earth was ruled by dinosaurs around 66 million year ago. They then suddenly vanished. 

This mass extinction has been called the Cretaceous Tertiary extinction.

For many years, it was thought that climate change had destroyed the food chains of large reptiles. 

In the 1980s, paleontologists discovered a layer of iridium.

This is an element that is rare on Earth but is found  in vast quantities in space.  

This was precisely when it occurred that the dinosaurs vanished from fossil records. 

A decade later, scientists uncovered the massive Chicxulub Crater at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which dates to the period in question. 

These two events are now considered to be linked by scientific consensus. They were probably both caused by an enormous, crashing asteroid.

The collision, given its projected impact velocity and size, would have likely caused a huge shock-wave that could have triggered earthquake activity. 

It is likely that the fallout caused plumes of ash to cover all of Earth, making it difficult for dinosaurs and other life forms to survive. 

Some species of animals or plants have a longer time between generations than others, which allows them to thrive.

Many theories exist about what led to the death of these animals. 

An early theory suggested that small mammals may have eaten dinosaur eggs. Another suggestion was that angiosperms, which are flowering plants that can cause toxic reactions in the body of tiny animals, killed these creatures.