Baby Dinosaur Returns Home

Baby Oviraptorosaur May Be New Species of Giant Feathered Dinosaur

The fossilised remains of a baby dinosaur, identified as a member of the Oviraptorosauria clade have been returned to China, some twenty years or so after it was taken out of the country.  The baby dinosaur, a hatchling, may represent a new species of dinosaur, possibly a dinosaur that could have grown to about eight metres in length, around the size of Gigantoraptor (G. erlianensis) which is the largest species of this type of feathered dinosaur described to date.

To read about the discovery of the 1,400 kilogramme Gigantoraptor: New Chinese Dinosaur Described – Gigantoraptor

There is a large market for illegally obtained dinosaur fossils from China, many fossils found by local farmers such as dinosaur eggs and even baby dinosaurs, end up being carefully collected and smuggled out of the country to become part of a wealthy individual’s private collection.  This is what happened to the baby dinosaur fossil, it was found perhaps in the mid 1990’s amongst a collection of fossilised eggs in the Henan Province of China, it would have moved through various parties until eventually winding up in the hands of a private collector in America.

The Fossilised Remains of “Baby Louie” – An Oviraptorosaur

"Baby Louie" returns home to China.

“Baby Louie” returns home to China.

Picture Credit: Darla Zelenitsky (University of Calgary) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The nearly complete fossil specimen was eventually purchased by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (purchased in 2013), even though it was now in a museum collection, detailed scientific study of the fossil material was not possible, to provide a more complete understanding of the significance of this dinosaur, it would need to be examined in conjunction with other dinosaur egg fossils from the same Upper Cretaceous strata.  The fossil, nick-named “Baby Louie” after photographer, documentary maker and acclaimed contributor to National Geographic, Louie Psihoyos, was returned to China and now resides in the collection of the Henan Geological Museum, where scientists are confident that with other contemporaneous fossil material available, much more will be learned about this particular dinosaur species.

Darla Zelenitsky, of the University of Calgary, recently updated the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology at their annual conference held in Dallas, (Texas), about the progress being made with the research.

Dr. Zelenitsky stated:

“I have initially started doing research on the specimen in an attempt to identify the parentage of the eggs, but interpreting the fossil wasn’t so simple.  Most dinosaurs are named from adult specimens and multiple studies have underscored the fact that dinosaurs changed dramatically as they grew up.”

Unable to Speculate on the Nature of the Species

Although it has been widely accepted that the fossil represents a baby Oviraptorosaur, it has proved difficult pining down a genus or indeed erecting a new species for this fossil.

Darla Zelenitsky summarised the problems:

“Because of the nature of the preservation and the immaturity of the skeleton, who laid the eggs was difficult to identify from the skeleton alone.  The best bet seemed to be some kind of Oviraptorosaur, feathery Theropod dinosaurs that had strange crests, and strange beaks.  Yet baby Louie seemed to large for such a species”.

It was not until that Gigantoraptor was described in 2007, that scientists became aware that some types of this Theropod dinosaur could grown to be very sizeable animals.  Most members of this clade tend to be just a couple of metres in length, some such as Caudipteryx are a lot smaller than that.

Dr. Zelenitsky added:

“The eggs themselves suggest Oviraptorosaur, but their size indicated an adult egg-layer that would have been more than a dozen times larger than most Oviraptorosaurs known at the time.”

Whilst it is still not possible to assign a species to the fossil, the discovery of Gigantoraptor suggests that “baby Louie” could have grown to a similarly large size.  Although it is difficult to speculate given the paucity of the fossil evidence, it has been suggested that this young dinosaur could have grown to be the size of Gigantoraptor.

Could Baby Louie Have Grown to the Size of Gigantoraptor?

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Feathers used for display and courtship.

Picture Credit: BBC (Planet Dinosaur Television Series)

Now that the specimen is in Henan Province, Dr. Zelenitsky and her colleagues can put together a sustained research project to learn as much as they can about how Oviraptorosaurs grew and matured.

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