Paleontologists Discover the World’s Oldest Dinosaur Nest
South Africa’s Golden Gate Highlands National Park is no stranger to the prehistoric beasts of millions of years ago. Many amazing discoveries have been unearthed in this rocky landmark but the most recent discovery – the world’s oldest dinosaur nest site is one for the record books.
The World’s Oldest Dinosaur Nest
South Africa’s Golden Gate Highlands National Park has revealed yet another of its rocky secrets but this time it comes in the form of ten separate dinosaur nests. These dinosaur nests go down as being the oldest nests found to date and date back some one hundred and ninety million years. The ten nests each contained a clutch of Massospondylus eggs with as many as thirty four eggs in a single clutch! Each of the eggs is said to measure in at around 2.36 to 2.76 inches long. The nests were found in an eighty two foot long stretch of rock within the park and are not believed to be the only nests in the area. Paleontologists working at the site suggest that further weathering of the rocky landscape will reveal a number of other Massospondylus nests in the same formation.
The Importance of the Massospondylus Nest Discovery
The discovery of the ten Massospondylus nests is significant not only because they are the oldest of nests to be discovered, but also because they tell us much about the nesting habits of these dinosaurs. It has long been believed that many species of dinosaurs nested in colonies and prior proof has been found to support this theory. What is special about the Massospondylus discovery is the fact that it is the earliest evidence of colonial nesting among dinosaurs. With ten individual nests found in the same area all with a clutch of eggs this finding supports the idea than many female Massospondylus would have nested and tended their young hatchlings in one area. Paleontologists believe that the Massospondylus would actually have returned to the same nesting sites repeatedly to nest as groups. It is unknown as to whether the colonial nesting habits of dinosaurs would have involved communal raising of the young.
What is Massospondylus?
Massospondylus is a large prosauropod dinosaur that lived during the early Jurassic period some 200 to 183 million years ago. Massospondylus was one of the first dinosaur species to have been named in 1854. There have been two species of Massospondylus named to date, the M. carinatus and M. kaalae. Over time the Massospondylus has also become known by a number of synonyms including Aetonyx, Aristosaurus, Dromicosaurus, Gyposaurus, Hortalotarsus, Ignavusaurus, Leptospondylus and Pachyspondylus.
What Did Massospondylus Look Like?
Massospondylus is considered to be a medium sized prosauropod – that is a type of dinosaur that is thought to have been an ancestor to the giant sauropods. This early dinosaur species is believed to have measured around thirteen feet long and weighed around three hundred pounds. While many people believe the Massospondylus to have been a quadrupedal dinosaur like the sauropods that followed, recent research suggests that this is not the case. Paleontologists have studied the length and the structure of the arms of this species and revealed that it was simply impossible for Massospondylus to have been anything but bipedal. The range of motion of the forelimbs is one of the biggest prohibitive factors in quadrupedal motion for Massospondylus.
Massospondylus is considered to be a typical prosauropod as far as appearance goes. The body of this medium sized dinosaur was long and somewhat slim what compared to many of the other dinosaur species that followed. Much like the later sauropods the neck of Massospondylus was long but certainly not as long as those long neck giants that would follow.
The Discovery of Massospondylus
The first specimens of Massospondylus to be recovered were discovered in 1853 in the Upper Elliot Formation at Harrissmith, South Africa. The very first specimen discovered consisted of a tail, back and neck vertebrae, a humerus, a shoulder blade, a femur, a partial pelvis, a tibia and hand and feet bones. This original specimen was among the Royal College of Surgeons collection that was kept in London. During World War II the collection was destroyed and the first Massospondylus specimen along with it. Today only casts of this first specimen remain but thankfully it is not the only specimen to have been discovered. Other Massospondylus specimens have been found in the Bushveld Sandstone, the Upper Elliot Formation and the Clarens Formation of South Africa and Lesotho; the upper Karroo Sandstone and Forest Sandstone in Zimbabwe and the Kayenta Formation of Arizona.
Why Did Dinosaurs Nest In Nesting Colonies?
Massospondylus was not the only dinosaur known to have nested in a nesting colony; Maiasaura is also known to have nested in the same way. A nesting site of Maiasaura was discovered in Montana that proved to be very similar to the nest of Massospondylus. Many paleontologists and researchers believe that the nesting colonies of dinosaurs points to another connection between birds and dinosaurs. If the Massospondylus are like the Maiasaura that have been discovered in nesting colonies, it is believed that they would have invested time in to raising their young. This finding is interesting because many believe that the prosauropods came as the forefathers to the later Sauropods. The sauropods, because of their immense size and need for constant food were not able to invest time in to rearing their young. For the sauropods stopping to give birth and raise their young would have been certain death because these giant beasts demanded such incredible amounts of vegetation to maintain their massive bodies. Parenting for sauropods involved laying eggs while on the move and leaving the young to fend for themselves in nurseries they developed as sibling groups.
What Can We Learn From This Newest Discovery?
There are a number of things that we can learn from the discovery of the oldest dinosaur nests in the world. We can learn more about the nesting and parenting habits of one of the earliest dinosaur species and how those patterns evolved as the giant sauropods grew larger than ever.