Dinosaurs Took a Surprisingly Long Time to Hatch


Model of an embryonic dinosaur. Image: Natural History Museum, Vienna/Xenophon
Model of an embryonic dinosaur. Image: Natural History Museum, Vienna/Xenophon
There’s an iconic scene in Jurassic Park depicting the “birth” of a baby velociraptor in a laboratory nest. Defenseless and adorable, the newly hatched predator is cradled by the characters as they ask the park’s staff about its engineering and physiology.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

But there’s one question the film conveniently leaves out: How long are these dinosaur embryos incubated before they break free of their shells? Do they hatch quickly, like modern birds, or do they take several months to develop, like modern reptiles?

For the purposes of a blockbuster monster movie, the answer is pretty much irrelevant. But for real-life paleontologists, who don’t have the luxury of handling resurrected dinosaur babies like their fictional counterparts, estimating incubation periods has been a persistent mystery due to the sheer scarcity of embryos in the fossil record.

“They’re really cute. Unfortunately, they’re dead. But they’re really cute.”

“Dinosaur embryos are the rarest of the rare,” said Gregory Erickson, a paleobiologist and professor based at Florida State University, in a phone interview with Motherboard. “There’s a very small window [for preservation]. Somehow, the fossilization environment has to percolate down and get minerals to the bones to fossilize them.”

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