How Would a Big Dinosaur Sit on a Nest Without Crushing the Eggs?

November 10, 2014

Scientists have had to make many educated guesses about dinosaurs as they have had only fossilized remains to work with. In some cases, they have guessed wrongly, as was the case with the oviraptorosaurs, whose name means “egg-thief lizards.” Their fossils have often been found with eggs and their discoverers wrongly believed that they were eating the eggs.

In recent years, scientists have learned that these creatures were actually nesting. That led Jurassic Park fanatic Christian Broda to ask the key question: How did the bigger oviraptorosaurs, which weighed about the same as a rhinoceros, sit on a nest without crushing the eggs?

Dinosaurs’ closest living relatives are birds and crocodiles. Crocodiles bury their nests, while birds do not. A bird’s egg is less porous than a crocodile’s egg, enabling it to keep water in the egg. Kohei Tanaka of the University of Calgary in Canada compared fossilized oviraptorosaur eggs to bird and crocodile eggs and found that the dinosaurs’ eggs were about as porous as a bird’s, indicating that they did not bury their eggs.

Tanaka then calculated the amount of weight the eggs could bear before cracking, and he found that the smaller and medium-sized oviraptorosaurs would have sat on a dozen or so closely-packed eggs that could bear their weight.

The biggest oviraptorosaurs solved the weight problem by arranging their eggs in a ring. Thus, most of their bulk rested on the ground in the middle of the ring, while still keeping the ring of eggs warm.

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