Fossil treasure group shows complex social herd behavior in dinosaurs 193...

Scientists say the fossils indicate a communal nesting ground and that the adults fed on the young and cared for them as a flock.

Borrow a line from the movieJurassic Park: “Dinosaurs move in flocks. A new study shows that prehistoric creatures lived in herds much earlier than previously thought.

In a paper published today (October 21, 2021) in Scientific Reportsand researchers from WithAnd Argentina and South Africa detail their discovery of an exceptionally preserved group of early dinosaurs showing signs of complex herd behavior 193 million years ago — 40 million years earlier than other records of herding dinosaurs.

Since 2013, team members have excavated more than 100 dinosaur eggs (about the size of chicken eggs) and partial skeletons of 80 small and adult dinosaurs from a rich fossil bed in southern Patagonia.

Mussaurus patagonicus dinosaur nesting site

Mussaurus patagonicus dinosaur nesting site

New research at a vast fossil site in Patagonia shows that some of the first dinosaurs, Mussaurus patagonicus, lived in herds, and suggests that this behavior may have been one of the keys to the dinosaurs’ success. Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

Using X-ray tomography, they were able to examine the contents of the eggs without taking them apart, and discovered the embryos preserved inside, which they used to confirm that the fossils were all members of the Mossaurus Patagonikos A plant-eating dinosaur that lived in the early Jurassic and is classified as a sauropodomorph, an ancestor of the large, long-necked sauropods that later roamed the Earth.

Surprisingly, the researchers noted that the fossils were grouped by age: dinosaur eggs and chicks were found in one area, while juvenile skeletons were grouped nearby. Meanwhile, remains of adult dinosaurs have been found alone or in pairs throughout the field site.


From the CONICET documents: “The earliest evidence of herd life and urban separation among dinosaurs.”

The researchers believe this “segregation of ages” is a strong sign of a complex herd-like social structure. It is possible that the dinosaurs functioned as a community, laying their eggs in a common nesting ground. Juveniles would gather in the “schools”, while the adults would wander and search for food for the flock.

“This could mean that the young were not following their parents into a small family structure,” says team member Jahandar Ramzani, a research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. “There is a larger societal structure, where adults participate and participate in uplifting the whole community.”

Ramzani dated the ancient sediments among the fossils and determined that the herd of dinosaurs dates back to about 193 million years ago, during the early Jurassic period. The team’s findings represent the first evidence of social grazing among dinosaurs.

Chicken-sized dinosaur eggs

Chicken-sized dinosaur eggs

Paleontologists in Argentina have discovered a community of dinosaurs in Patagonia, including a nest of chicken-sized eggs, like the one shown here. Credit: Roger Smith

Living in flocks has given Photographer And other social sauropodomorphs have an evolutionary advantage. These early dinosaurs arose late Triassic, shortly before the extinction event wiped out many other animals. For whatever reason, sauropodomorphs maintained and dominated the terrestrial ecosystem in the early Jurassic.

“We have now observed and documented this early social behavior in dinosaurs,” Ramzani says. This now raises the question of whether living in a herd played a major role in the early evolutionary success of dinosaurs. This gives us some clues as to how dinosaurs evolved.”

early grazing

Since 2013, paleontologists on the team have worked at Laguna Colorada Formation, a site in southern Patagonia known to hold fossils of early sauropodomorphs. When scientists first discovered fossils inside this formation in the 1970s, they named it Photographer For the “mouse lizard”, they hypothesized that the skeletons were miniature dinosaurs.

Only later did scientists, including members of the Argentine team, discover larger skeletons, indicating that Photographer The adults were much larger than the rodents of the same name. However, the name was put on hold, and the team continued to discover a rich collection of Photographer Fossils of a small square kilometer of formation.

Mussaurus patagonicus Embryo CT Scan

Mussaurus patagonicus Embryo CT Scan

Using X-ray imaging, the scientists scanned eggs to discover the skeletons of preserved embryos, which they used to confirm the fossils as members of the plant-eating dinosaur, Mussaurus patagonicus. Credit: Vincent Fernandez

The fossils they have identified so far have been found in three closely spaced sedimentary layers, suggesting that the area may have been a fertile breeding ground where dinosaurs returned regularly, possibly to take advantage of favorable seasonal conditions.

Among the fossils they unearthed, the team unearthed a group of 11 articulated juvenile skeletons, intertwined and intertwined with each other, as if suddenly thrown together. In fact, judging from the remarkably conserved nature of the entire group, the team believes that this particular herd Photographer He died “simultaneously”, probably quickly buried by sediments.

Based on evidence of ancient vegetation in nearby outcrops, the formation of Laguna Colorada has long been assumed to be relatively ancient on the timescale of dinosaurs. The team wondered: Were these dinosaurs grazing from early on?

“People already knew it in the late Jurassic and chalkyLarge herbivorous dinosaurs exhibited social behavior — they lived in herds and had nesting places,” Ramzani says. “But the question has always been, when was the earliest time for such grazing behavior occurred?”

secant line

To find out, Diego Bol, a paleontologist at the Egidio Viroglio Paleontological Museum in Argentina who led the study, searched for samples of volcanic ash among the fossils to send to MIT’s Ramzani Laboratory. Volcanic ash can contain zircon – mineral grains containing uranium and lead, isotopic ratios that Ramzani can accurately measure. Based on the half-life of uranium, or the time it takes for half of the element to decay into lead, he can calculate the life of zircon and the ash in which it was found. Ramzani succeeded in identifying zircon in two ash samples, all dating back about 193 million years.

Since volcanic ash has been found in the same layers of sediment as the fossils, Ramzani’s analyzes strongly suggest that dinosaurs were buried at the same time as the ash deposit. The scenario likely involved drought and wind-blown dust that starved and quickly buried the herd, while the ash drift from a distant eruption occurred and, fortunately for science, zircon deposited into the sediments.


The team of scientists used the European Synchrotron High-energy X-ray (ESRF) to penetrate the dinosaur eggs without destroying them and get a full view inside. Credit: Vincent Fernandez/Diego Paul/ESRF

Taken together, the team’s results show that Photographer Other dinosaurs may have evolved to live in complex social herds about 193 million years ago, at the dawn of the Jurassic period.

“The evidence points to that Photographer says Raymond Rogers, a professor of geology at Macalester College, who was not involved in the study. “This type of social behavior is common today in large terrestrial herbivores. It is amazing to see clear evidence of the same phenomenon in these early dinosaur species.”

Scientists believe there were two other types of early dinosaurs – Massospondylus from South Africa and lovinggosaurus From China – he also lived in herds around the same time, although the dating of these dinosaurs has been less precise. If several separate lineages of dinosaurs lived in herds, researchers believe that social behavior may have evolved earlier, possibly as far back as their common ancestor, in the late Triassic.

“We now know that grazing has been going on for 193 million years,” Ramzani says. “This is the first confirmed evidence of social behavior in dinosaurs. But understanding paleontology says, if you find social behavior in this type of dinosaur at this time, it must have arose earlier.”

Reference: “The oldest evidence for the separation of herd life and age among dinosaurs” by Diego Paul, Adriana C. Mancuso, Roger MH Smith, Claudia A. Marsicano, Jahandar Ramsani, Ignacio A. Cerda, Alejandro Otero and Vincent Fernandez, October 21, 2021 and Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-99176-1

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation of the United States and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research in Argentina.

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