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A nesting dinosaur

An Erratum to this article was published on 11 January 1996


A SPECTACULAR fossil specimen that suggests the presence of an avian type of nesting behaviour in oviraptorids, a clade of non-avian maniraptoran theropods, is reported here. The substantial evidence indicating that birds are a type of theropod dinosaur has led to copious discussion concerning the origin and possible presence of advanced avian reproductive behaviour in non-avian dinosaurs. Although the inference of behaviour from fossils is problematic, some remarkable discoveries, such as the incontrovertible evidence of dinosaur nests1, and more controversial claims made on the basis of dinosaur nesting grounds2 and juvenile morphology3, hint at the occurrence of advanced reproductive behaviour in a variety of non-avian dinosaurs. But there is no direct fossil evidence implying advanced parental systems such as those found in modern birds. The closest associations between presumed parents and nests occur in oviraptorid dinosaurs from Late Cretaceous deposits of the Gobi Desert4,5. The specimen described here is the first preserved well enough to determine its precise relationship with the nest. It is a large oviraptorid positioned over a nest of oviraptorid eggs in the same posture taken by many living birds when brooding. This provides the strongest evidence yet for the presence of avian brooding behaviour in non-avian dinosaurs.

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Norell, M., Clark, J., Chiappe, L. et al. A nesting dinosaur. Nature 378, 774–776 (1995).

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