In 1996, National Geographic introduced Baby Louie to the world. This is a fossilized dinosaur embryo coming from China. Paleontologists spent 20 years debating which type of dinosaur hatched Louie.
Now, they identified the mystery infant as part of a new dinosaur species the Beibeilong sinensis. This name means “baby dragon from China”, and comes as quite a breakthrough. Its discovery is helping scientists piece together the oviraptorid family tree.
How Baby Louie Was Unearthed
Reports state that the egg was dug up in between 1992 and 1993 by farmer Zhang Fengchen in the Xixia Basin of Henan, China. It was among a nest of fossilized fragments dated back to the Cretaceous period. However, excavators never found any adult remains. The embryo got its name after Louie Psihoyos, the photographer who shot the iconic “Baby Louie” photos for National Geographic.
For years, scientists believed Baby Louie resembled a group of feathered, two-legged dinosaurs known as oviraptorosaurs. Yet, the 18-inch egg was too large to come from a typical six-foot-long oviraptorosaur. Researchers then estimated that Louie’s parent must have weighed at least 1.5 tons. It must have also measured 25 feet long.
In 2007, Chinese paleontologists found the remains of a Gigantoraptor, a larger variant of the oviraptorosaur. Eight years later, scientists returned to the site of Louie’s nest. There, they found more egg fragments that also confirmed their latest theory.
Baby Louie was part of a new dinosaur species, an enormous birdlike creature similar to a modern-day cassowary.
“This specimen represents the youngest individual known and the earliest growth stage of a giant oviraptorosaur,” says Darla Zelenitsky, a paleontologist at the University of Calgary.
The quest to name Louie helped researchers clear up missing facts about oviraptorosaurs. Their name means “egg thief lizards” because paleontologists once thought they raided nests for food.
Further research revealed that the species was probably a cautious, parental type of dinosaurs. Without an oviraptorosaur’s watchful nature, excavators might have never discovered such a rare, wholly preserved baby skeleton.
Besides naming Baby Louie’s new or old family, the research team also released a paper with its study results in the journal Nature Communications.
Image Source: Wikimedia