(CN) — The Lameta Formation, a well-known dinosaur fossil site in Central India, is a paleontologist's dream — home to the remains of pre-mass-extinction dinosaurs, snakes and turtles. And according to a new study, recent work in the area has uncovered 256 eggs at 92 titanosaur nesting sites.
In a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, Harsha Dhiman of the University of Delhi, New Delhi and their team detail the nesting sites and their insights into biodiversity, reproductive habits and other traits of the giant beasts that once roamed the Earth.
"Our research has revealed the presence of an extensive hatchery of titanosaur sauropod dinosaurs in the study area and offers new insights into the conditions of nest preservation and reproductive strategies of titanosaur sauropod dinosaurs just before they went extinct," Dhiman said in a statement accompanying the study.
The 256 eggs belong to titanosaurs — one of the most enormous dinosaurs to ever live. The eggs range between 15-17 centimeters in diameter and were found in clusters in an already dense nesting area.
"The most important finding is of such a large assemblage of titanosaur nests from the central part of India (Madhya Pradesh) which adds on to the previous findings from the eastern and western part of India and makes Narmada valley as a host for one of the largest dinosaur hatcheries in the world," Dhiman said in an interview.
The abundance of nests suggests that titanosaurs are closer to modern birds than previously thought, with the research pointing toward colonial roosting habits. Penguins, cormorants, egrets and other birds display similar behaviors. The close nests led researchers to believe the young were left to fend for themselves.
Some nests were shallowly placed in a pit, similar to where crocodile eggs are found, while others were placed in vegetation. This practice possibly incubated the young, fragile dinosaurs.
Six new species of titanosaurs were discovered in the eggs, adding to the biodiversity of the massive sauropods. Previously, the various species in the area have been determined based on skeletal remains.
Due to an "egg in egg" finding and other clutch data, Dhiman's team believes that titanosaurs reproduced in ways closer to birds than reptiles.
"The most interesting finding is a pathological egg known as ovum-in-ovo. It has opened up the possibility of sequential egg laying pattern in titanosaurs which was known previously only in birds. This is the first report of egg in egg pathology in reptiles including dinosaurs," said Dhiman.
The area lacks evidence of juveniles and adults, possibly due to erosion or breeding habits, that kept sauropods from inhabiting the area where they nested. Despite this, the team is hoping to learn even more about the early stages of titanosaur life.
"We plan to undertake 3D Computed Tomography scanning of some of the complete eggs to see whether any of them preserve embryonic skeletons," Dhiman explained.
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