Colored bird eggs traced to dinosaurs

Dinosaur eggs came in many colors—just like birds'

According to a new scientific report, dinosaurs also invented - or, if you want to get technical, first evolved - eggs of different colors. Two, some parent birds use spot patterns to recognize their own eggs if they live in large colonies (or to prevent freeloading birds, like cuckoos, from sneaking their eggs into a brood). Then, in 2015, Jasmina Wiemann and colleagues reported the presence of two pigments, one blue-green and one red, in oviraptor eggs. "As with many other characteristics, this is an attribute that evolved deep within the dinosaur tree and long before the spectacular radiation of modern birds". That study raised a question about whether the colors of bird eggs can be traced to a dinosaur origin or if they evolved on their own.

"Colored eggs have been considered a unique bird characteristic for over a century", said co-author Dr. Mark Norell, the Macaulay Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Speckled bird egg - but the dinosaurs did it first.

A team of researchers has found that "birds inherited their egg color from non-avian dinosaur ancestors that laid eggs in fully or partially open nests", Yale University announced Wednesday. Instead of using the chemical analysis they developed for the 2017 study, which required grinding up fossil specimens, they turned to an innovative technique for studying fossils: something called Raman microspectroscopy. These two groups, which famously include Triceratops and Diplodocus had colorless eggs, the birds' ancestors had colored eggs, birds have colored eggs - all this strongly suggest that pigmented eggs only evolved once, in bird-like therapods, and these pigments are carried through until the present day.

"We infer that egg color co-evolved with open nesting habits in dinosaurs", she said in a statement.

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The dinosaurs with egg color were species that kept their eggs in exposed nests: animals like Deinonychus and some Troodontids, active predators that may have laid nests in small groups but not in vast nesting grounds like some of the duck-billed dinosaurs.

"We have, very likely, a single evolutionary origin of egg color", Wiemann tells NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce. Birds lay colorful eggs. "A robin's egg is uniformly blue, but a quail's is spotted and speckled".

At this point, the idea that birds are actually just what's left of dinosaurs is widely accepted, so it should be no surprise that researchers are working hard to determine what pieces of modern birds are actually leftovers from much more ferocious beasts that roamed the earth tens of millions of years back.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says it looks like dinosaurs may have needed these fancy eggs for all the same reasons as birds and maybe some egg-related dinosaur business we haven't even thought of. Later, the team found the same pigments in other dinosaurs' eggs, as well as evidence that those eggs were speckled, just like modern eggs. Given the analytical methods from other scientific disciplines now available for work on fossils, "It's an fantastic time to be a paleontologist", she says.

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