Some Dinosaurs Had Colorful, Speckled Eggs, Just Like Modern Birds

Thursday, 01 November 2018 - 1:50PM
Thursday, 01 November 2018 - 1:50PM
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Though most of us are familiar with blue-speckled robin's eggs or golden-brown chicken eggs, the sheer range of colors and patterns on bird eggs is amazing: they can be brick-red, marbled in patterns that look like the surface of the Moon, or covered in squiggly lines like a Jackson Pollock painting. For years, biologists and other scientists thought these patterns were a relatively recent evolutionary trait developed by modern birds, but new research into dinosaur eggs has revealed that some were just as colorful and unique as the ones we see today.

According to paleontologist Jasmina Wiemann of Yale University, one of the main reasons scientists thought colorful eggs were unique to modern birds was because crocodiles (their closest living relatives) have uncolored eggs, while bird eggs are colored by a combination of two pigments—one that's red-brown and another that's blue-green. In fact, birds, crocodiles, and dinosaurs share a common ancestor, which lived an estimated 240 million years ago. So if crocodiles didn't develop colored eggs, maybe the dinosaurs did.

The first dinosaur the team looked at was the oviraptor. According to Wiemann: "This dinosaur is particularly interesting because oviraptors are the first dinosaurs that built open nests...Once you start to build an open nest, your eggs are exposed to the environment." Wiemann's team found traces of the same pigments that color bird eggs today, which was exciting. Later, the team found the same pigments in other dinosaurs' eggs, as well as evidence that those eggs were speckled, just like modern eggs.

According to ornithologist Mark Hauber: "We not only know now that dinosaur eggs were colorful, but they were speckled, which is a whole other aspect of diversity...Dinosaur eggs could have been camouflaged, they could have been individually recognized, they could have been mimetic. So there are all the functions that are associated with spotting patterns on eggs that we did not even consider for dinosaur eggs."

If you're interested in all the practical advantages of speckled and brightly colored eggs, check out this article.
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