Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Environment

90: Early Birds Caught Wind

By Erik StokstadJanuary 3, 2005 6:00 AM
yis-earlybird90.jpg
The first known pterosaur egg reveals a well-developed embryonic skeleton, com-plete with wing membranes and skin impressions. | Courtesy of Xiaolin Wang and Zhonghe Zhou/Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology/Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

No one would expect a baby bird to take flight immediately after hatching, yet paleontologists who have examined the first known pterosaur embryo think that’s exactly what the fledgling reptiles once did.

The fossilized embryo, cradled in a two-inch egg, was found by a farmer in Liaoning Province, China, who handed it off to Zhonghe Zhou and Xiaolin Wang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. The fossil dates to 121 million years ago. When the two researchers first caught sight of the embryo’s sturdy upper arm bone and extremely long fourth finger, they “immediately recognized it as belonging to a pterosaur,” Zhou recalls.

A pterosaur egg is no surprise, because the animals were reptiles. However, this embryo is unusually advanced; the membranes of its five-inch wings had already developed, as had the bones. Such mature features suggest that, like modern chickens, ducks, and turkeys, pterosaurs probably could fend for themselves soon after hatching. “It seems to have had all the gear needed to fly as soon as it came out of the egg,” says David Unwin, a pterosaur expert at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. “I’m absolutely gobsmacked.”

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In