The jury is still the end over whether the chicken or egg come first. However turns out dinosaurs to be laying bird-like eggs long before chickens roamed Earth.(Image credit: dreamstime.)
A rare fossilized dinosaur colony helps price the conundrum the which came first, the chicken or the egg, two paleontologists say.

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The tiny carnivorous dinosaur sat over her swarm of eggs part 77 million year ago, along a sandy flow beach. As soon as water levels rose, mother seems to have actually fled, leaving the unhatched offspring.

Researchers have now studied the fossil nest and at least five partial eggs. The nest is a mound the sand that extends around 1.6 feet (half a meter) across and weighs as much as a tiny person, or around 110 pounds (50 kg).

"Some attributes of the swarm are mutual with birds, and our analysis can call us how far back in time this features, such as brooding, swarm building, and eggs through a pointed end, advanced — partial answers come the old inquiry of which came first, the chicken or the egg," claimed researcher Francois Therrien, curator that dinosaur paleoecology in ~ the royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada.

The answer?

Well, it’s quiet unclear even if it is chicken eggs or chickens came first (the intended concern in the initial riddle), claimed Darla Zelenitsky, a paleontologist that the college of Calgary in Alberta that was the an initial scientist to carefully analyze the dinosaur nest.

But interpreted literally, the answer to the riddle is clear. Dinosaurs were developing bird-like nests and laying bird-like eggs long prior to birds (including chickens) evolved from dinosaurs.

"The egg came before the chicken," Zelenitsky said. "Chickens developed well after ~ the meat-eating dinosaurs that laid these eggs."

So the initial riddle can now be rephrased: Which come first, the dinosaur or the egg? Meanwhile, the new nest gives some that the strongest proof in phibìc America in favor of the bird-like egg over the chicken.

Rare dino nests

The fossil colony was collected in the 1990s and kept in ~ Canada Fossils minimal in Calgary, Alberta. That"s whereby Zelenitsky very first spotted the remains, which to be labeled at first as belonging come a duck-billed dinosaur, one herbivore. (In 2007, the fossil was obtained by the imperial Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta.)

Zelenitsky realized the the nest and eggs in reality belonged come a little theropod, a meat-eating dinosaur. In particular, the egg-layer was likely a maniraptoran, the group of theropods that paleontologists think birds acquired from part 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

"Nests of small theropods space rare in phibìc America and also only those the the dinosaur Troodon have actually been figured out previously," stated Zelenitsky. "Based on features of the eggs and nest, we recognize that the nest belonged to one of two people a caenagnathid or a tiny raptor, both small meat-eating dinosaurs closely related come birds."

She added, "Either way, it is the first nest recognized for these tiny dinosaurs."

The just other egg clutch identified to day from a maniraptoran in north America belonged to Troodon formosus.

Egg-laying behaviors

The evaluation of the nest, in-depth in the latest worry of the journal Palaeontology, provides paleontologists through information around egg-laying in this specific dinosaur and also others, along with the development of miscellaneous egg-laying behaviors, Therrien said.

"Our study tells us a lot about the dinosaur the laid the eggs and also how it developed its nest," the said.

For instance, the position and also spacing the the eggs suggest the original clutch included at the very least 12 eggs arranged in a ring around the mound"s flat top, wherein the theropod would have actually sat and also brooded the clutch. The eggs were about 5 inches (12 cm) lengthy and, prefer bird eggs, they were pointed at one end.

The analysis also suggests the dinosaur laid its eggs 2 at a time top top the sloping sides of the mound. That"s unlike, say, crocodiles, which lay all your eggs in ~ once, and more like birds, which put one egg at a time. (The ancestors of crocodiles provided rise come dinosaurs and also later on, birds.)

As if figuring out the chicken-egg puzzle weren"t enough, the researchers also have another objective: "To find the very same kind of swarm with babies inside," Zelenitsky called "There room dinosaur eggs from phibìc America v baby bones maintained inside the them. It"s totally possible, however again these varieties of swarms (from small meat-eating dinosaurs) are fairly rare."

The research study was funded by Richard and Donna Strong, the Alberta resourcefulness Fellowship Fund and also the Killam Fellowship Fund.

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Jeanna is the editor-in-chief that Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor in ~ Scholastic"s Science civilization magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master"s degree in biogeochemistry and also environmental scientific researches from the college of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from new York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and also did field surveys for endangered species. She likewise received an s sciences journalism fellowship indigenous Woods hole Oceanographic Institution.