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'Baby Dragon' Found In China Is The Newest Species Of Dinosaur

In an artist's rendering, a gigantic, cassowarylike dinosaur named <em>Beibeilong, </em>which lived some 90 million years ago, incubates its eggs.
Zhao Chuang
Nature Communications
In an artist's rendering, a gigantic, cassowarylike dinosaur named Beibeilong, which lived some 90 million years ago, incubates its eggs.

Meet Beibeilong sinensis, the most recently identified dinosaur species.

The name means "baby dragon from China." The dinosaur had massive feathered wings and a birdlike skull. It probably looked most like a cassowary, flightless birds slightly smaller than an ostrich.

But the Beibeilong was much bigger than any currently living bird, according to a study published in Nature Communications. Based on comparisons with close relatives, the birdlike dinosaur probably weighed about 3 tons and could grow up to 26 feet long.

In 1993, farmers in China found a Beibeilong embryo and eggs in Henan province. The fossils were sold to an American fossil company called The Stone Co. and brought to the United States. A model of an embryo curled inside an egg was famously featured on the May 1996 cover of National Geographic and was nicknamed "Baby Louie." But nobody knew what kind of dinosaur Baby Louie was.

This image shows the curled embryo of a <em>Beibeilong</em> amid eggshells, which are dark gray in color.
Darla Zelenitsky of University of Calgary / Nature Communications
Nature Communications
This image shows the curled embryo of a Beibeilong amid eggshells, which are dark gray in color.

The eggs weighed about 11 pounds, making them some of the largest dinosaur eggs ever uncovered. Some people thought they might have come from a tyrannosaur.

"The eggs looked very much like eggs that were known to belong to oviraptorosaurs," said Darla Zelenitsky, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary who studied the eggs firsthand in the 1990s. "But these eggs with the specimen were eight to 10 times the volume of other known eggs [of oviraptorosaurs]."

In the 1990s, all of the known species of oviraptorosaur were small creatures. "There's no way they were laying a 4- to 5-kilogram egg," Zelenitsky says.

Then, in 2007, scientists in China discovered the first species of giant oviraptorosaur. "So finally, after 12 years, there is a species of oviraptorosaur that could have laid these giant oviraptorosaurlike eggs," Zelenitsky says.

If Beibeilong nested like its smaller oviraptorosaur cousins did, it would be the largest known dinosaur to have sat protectively on its eggs.

Studying these dinosaurs is difficult because there are only three known sets of skeletal remains of giant oviraptorosaurs. So there's a lot more to learn about Beibeilong, but at least we know what "Baby Louie" really was.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Madeline Sofia is the host of Short Wave — NPR's daily science podcast. Short Wave will bring a little science into your life, all in about 10 minutes. Sometimes it'll be a good story, a smart conversation, or a fun explainer, but it'll always be interesting and easy to understand. It's a break from the relentless news cycle, but you'll still come away with a better understanding of the world around you.

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