Scientists unravel mystery of mysterious Fossil from the Antarctic

Katie Ramirez
June 20, 2020

By analyzing the body and egg sizes of 259 living reptiles, researchers determined the species that laid the deflated football some 66 million years ago would have likely stretched about 20 feet from the nose to the end of the body, not counting the tail.

Scientists in the United States believe they are closer to solving the mystery of what a peculiar large fossil found in the Antarctic in 2011 could be, saying it is likely to be an enormous soft-shell egg laid by an extinct giant sea lizard.

The details of the egg and its discovery were published this week in the journal Nature.

David Rubilar-Rogers of Chile's National Museum of Natural History, also co-author of the study, was one of the first scientists to have originally found the fossilized egg in 2011.

Corresponding author Professor Julia Clarke, also of UT, said the almost-complete, football-sized soft-shelled egg changes our understanding of the creatures of this period. After much research and analysis, scientists have said that the egg belongs to an extinct giant sea lizard or snake that lived alongside the dinosaurs.

A cross section of the giant egg's shell shows a very thin, hard outer shell surrounding a thick, soft inner membrane.

Zelenitsky said that could be why, after 30 years of egg discoveries in Alberta, no hard-shelled eggs belonging to large horned dinosaurs have been found there. It looks a bit like a crumpled baked potato but measures a whopping 11 by seven inches - 28 by 18 centimetres.

It wasn't the most obvious hypothesis given its size and appearance, and there was no skeleton inside to confirm it. "It is most similar to the eggs of lizards and snakes, but it is from a truly giant relative of these animals", Dr. Legendre said. The elephant bird went extinct in roughly 1200 CE, and the largest found egg was 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. The egg is believed to have been laid by a giant sea reptile, possibly the Mosasaur (as seen in Jurassic World).

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Then they suspected a link with mosasaurs.

An artist's interpretation of a baby mosasaur emerging from an egg.

It had always been thought that all dinosaurs laid hard-shelled eggs, as modern birds - the descendants of feathered dinosaurs - and crocodilians do.

"But there was no fossil evidence, plus the closest living relatives of dinosaurs - crocodiles and birds - all lay hard-shelled eggs". The object has sat in Chile's National Museum of Natural History for nearly a decade, with scientists unable to determine its origin.

In the well-preserved Protoceratops specimen, researchers noticed a black-and-white egg-shaped halo associated with skeletal embryos in the fossilized clutch.

"Why do we only find dinosaur eggs relatively late in the Mesozoic and why only in a couple groups of dinosaurs", he said he asked himself.

To test the theory, Norell and a team analysed the material around some of the Protoceratops skeletons in the fossil and another fossil of two apparently newborn Mussaurus. They found that the eggs and associated embryos "were indeed non-biomineralized - and, therefore, leathery and soft".

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