Baby Louie, the celebrated infant dinosaur, was discovered in the early 1990s tucked in a nest of eggs in Henan Province, in central China. The dinosaur orphan, a 90-million-year-old fossilized dinosaur embryo, was found among a clutch of squash-shaped eggs that measured about 18 inches long and 6 inches wide.
Because of the size, these eggs are among the largest dinosaur eggs ever discovered. However, the remains of their parents were untraceable and hence their species was unknown.
“There were all sorts of speculation on what laid the eggs; was it the tyrannosaur?” said Darla Zelenitsky, a paleontologist at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
Now after nearly 25 years, their species has finally been revealed by Dr. Zelenitsky and her colleagues, who have linked the infant dinosaurs with their prehistoric lineage. According to them, Baby Louie and its family are from a group of large, birdlike dinosaurs known as giant oviraptorosaurs.
Heavy as a rhino and tall as an elephant, this species of dinosaurs resembles cassowaries and ostriches. Baby Loui has now become the first found member belonging to a new species of giant oviraptorosaur called Beibeilong sinensis, which roughly means “Chinese baby dragon.”
“We finally know the parentage of the largest known dinosaur eggs,” Dr. Zelenitsky said. The discovery has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Such massive eggs are called Macroelongatoolithus eggs and they have also been discovered in North America. Typically arranged in a large ring, there are up to about 30 dinosaur eggs in a nest.
Among all the eggs, only the one which was home to Baby Louie had a skeleton that was closely related to the eggs. Baby Loui provided the closest and best clues for finding out what creatures could produce such massive eggs.
Baby Louie was discovered between December 1992 and 1993 in China. A fossil dealer named Charlie Magovern unexpectedly found the fossilized fetus bones after he came into possession of rocks.
Baby Louie was featured on the cover photo of National Geographic in 1996 and was named after the photographer who wrote the feature article – Louie Psihoyos.
Until 2001, Baby Louie remained with fossil dealers. The Indianapolis Children’s Museum then bought it from the dealers and put it on display for around 12 years. An exciting discovery was made in China during this time – the first giant oviraptorosaur fossil was unearthed in 2007.
Previously known of oviraptors, Paleontologists were aware of the fact that Baby Louie resembled one. However, all the oviraptors discovered until that time were too small to have laid such massive eggs.
However, the idea that the massive eggs came from a giant oviraptorosaur seemed plausible after the discovery of one-ton oviraptorosaur.
“Finally here it is — there are giant oviraptorosaurs that could have laid these eggs,” Dr. Zelenitsky said.
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Still, even after the giant oviraptorosaurs were discovered, it took another decade for the researchers to publish the connection. Dr. Zelenitsky and her colleagues were concerned about the legal status of the fossil and they wanted to wait until Baby Loui was repatriated to China.
The fossilized embryo was finally put on display in the Henan Geological Museum in Zhengzhou in 2013. In 2015, some members of the team visited the site in China where Baby Louie was discovered and found fossilized egg shells that were identical to the ones from “Baby Louie’s nest.