Some dinosaur eggs were blue, brown or speckled

Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg

Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg

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.

Research in the past few decades has shown many traits once thought to define modern birds, including feathers, wishbones, brooding behaviors, avian-style lungs, and hollow skeletons, evolved first in their dinosaur forebears. So she and some colleagues studied 66-million-year-old egg fossils, searching for the two pigments - a red one and a blue one - that are known to mix and match in bird eggs, creating all of the attractive colors.

Hauber offered three other reasons, in addition to camouflage, why birds have colorful eggs: One, pigments can act like a parasol or sunscreen, protecting the embryos within from too much heat. Wiemann, a graduate student at Yale University went on to work with Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, to develop a nondestructive method for identifying pigments.

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.

"This completely changes our understanding of how egg colours evolved", said Yale University palaeontologist and lead study author Jasmina Wiemann. 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.

They found them in eggs from dinosaurs including Velociraptor, which lived in the region of what is now Mongolia around 75 million years ago. Pigment did not occur in the crocodilian, sauropod, or ornithischian eggs (the other two dinosaur groups), according to the study published in Nature. This made scientists wonder whether birds evolved colored eggs on their own, or whether they inherited egg color from an ancient ancestor.

An illustration shows a deinonychus chick hatching from a blue egg with brown spots.

But that was one dinosaur.

More specifically, Wiemann thinks egg color evolved when certain dinosaurs started building open nests, rather than burying their eggs. The researchers will now need a larger sample of eggshells to analyze.

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

If you're interested in all the practical advantages of speckled and brightly colored eggs, check out this article. Birds with white eggs today, such as ostriches, parrots, and some domestic chickens, must have later lost the trait of coloring their eggs through evolution, she says. Maybe bright colors facilitate the search of eggs in thick grass or helped to distinguish them from eggs planted "brood parasites" like the modern cuckoo. Thermoregulation? Or, as in some parasitic birds, to mimic the appearance of a host's eggs?

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