Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Bird egg colors linked to dinosaur ancestors, new study finds

Dinosaur eggs came in many colors—just like birds' Coloured bird, dinosaur eggs in same evolutionary basket
Cary Marshall | 02 November, 2018, 23:18

Stem birds, she said, were on the way toward what is considered modern birds and had "mixed characteristics", like teeth.

But why? Wiemann and Norell both hypothesized that the emergence of egg color stemmed from theropods no longer laying their eggs in underground or covered nests.

Meanwhile, two more distant relatives of birds, called ornithischian and sauropod dinosaurs, were completely pigment free, indicating that these dinosaurs always had plain, colorless eggs.

"Here, we're able to show just another case that a lot of characteristics unique to birds have their roots much deeper in dinosaur history", Paleontology Division Chair Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History told Gizmodo.

Egg colors of archosaurs: the internal nodes are (1) Archosauria, (2) Dinosauria, (3) Ornithischia, (4) Saurischia, (5) Eumaniraptora, (6) Paraves and (7) Aves; the egg icon in the phylogeny labels Eumaniraptora.

Study author Jasmina Wiemann, now a doctoral student at Yale University, began her search for colorful eggs with a dinosaur named Heyuannia huangi, an oviraptor with a beak like a parrot's. 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. The earliest-known bird, Archaeopteryx, lived about 150 million years ago in Germany. But as James Gorman of the New York Times reports, a new study has found that colorful eggs may have appeared all the way back in the age of the dinosaurs.

Tiffany blue, pale green, periwinkle: bird eggs come in a variety of stunning hues. One animal coloration expert not involved in the study, professor Mary Caswell Stoddard at Princeton, thought the research would ignite conversations about dinosaur behavior.

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More specifically, Wiemann thinks egg color evolved when certain dinosaurs started building open nests, rather than burying their eggs. They also describe "identical mechanisms of pigment deposition in nonavian and avian dinosaur eggs".

What's more, the analysis of pigments showed that dinosaur eggs even had spots and speckles. Before this work, though, many biologists predicted that modern birds, not their ancestors, developed colorful eggshells.

"Dinosaur eggs could have been camouflaged, they could have been individually recognized, they could have been mimetic", says Hauber.

The researchers in this particular study looked closely at various fossilized eggs from dinosaurs to see if they could detect what was once pigment.

Most likely, it was a single event, even of uncertain mutation, which caused accumulation of biliverdin in the shell and made the eggs for the beginning of blue-green. And the presence of speckling raises the possibility there may have been nest parasites long before the appearance of birds - the cuckoo dinosaur.

And, she said, "It's an example of another feature that was really thought to be exclusive among birds".

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