Baby Louie, a dinosaur embryo, finally revealed its secrets

The fossil embryo was found to be part of a group of six to eight eggs.
The fossil embryo was found to be part of a group of six to eight eggs. ZHAO CHUANG

After 20 years of analysis, the fossil of a dinosaur embryo is finally associated with a new species of „terrible lizard“.

But who was Baby Louie, that fossil dinosaur embryo found in China more than 20 years ago? After years of investigation, paleontologists announced that it was a new giant species of Oviraptorosaure, close to birds but unfit to fly. Once an adult, this dinosaur, with the appearance of a gigantic cassowary, would have made up to 8 meters high and weighed 3 tons, tells the paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary (Canada). He (the dinosaur :-)) made large nests 2 to 3 meters in diameter.

Baby Louie lived about 90 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period, in what is now Henan Province (east-central China). According to a study published Tuesday, May 9, 2017  in Nature Communications , the new species belongs to the family Caenagnathidae and the group of Oviraptorosaurs.

The Oviraptorosaurs, with a robust beak with no teeth and a crest, were mostly covered with feathers. The Baby Louie embryo was about 60 cm long and weighed about 4 kilograms in its complete form, says Darla Zelenitsky, co-author of the study. The eggs measure more than 40 centimeters each. „They are among the biggest known dinosaur eggs.“ The nest probably contained more than two dozen eggs.  „It must have been a hell of a sight to see a three-ton animal like that sitting on his eggs!“, says the researcher.

The fossil of Baby Louie. Credit: Darla Zelenitsky, University of Calgary.

The recent history of the fossil has been quite restless. In 1993 a farmer discovers what will prove to be a part of a large nest of dinosaurs with fossil eggs and bones. While it has not yet been prepared, the block is illegally leaving China. It is bought by an American fossil trader and merchant, Charlie Magovern, based in Colorado. He begins to prepare the fossilized eggs and realizes that there are also bones and especially a skull. He then turns to specialists. Darla Zelenitsky and Philip Curie of the University of Alberta, co-authors of the article published Tuesday, are acquainted with the fossil in 1995.

It became famous in 1996 with the publication of an article in National Geographic . Charlie Magovern nicknamed the fossil „Baby Louie“, the name of the photographer of the article. Bought in 2001 by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the fossil is presented there for twelve years before it is returned to China at the end of 2013, thanks to an agreement with the Henan Geological Museum where it is now preserved. „As long as the fossil had not been repatriated to China, it was not possible to describe it in a scientific publication and name the new species,“ says Professor Philip Curie. Now it’s done. Chinese researchers, International team gave the fossil the name Beibeilong sinensis, which means „baby dragon“.