Colored bird eggs come from dinosaurs

Dinosaur eggs came in many colors—just like birds'

In fact, birds that nest in enclosed spaces, like owls and woodpeckers, tend to have white eggs.

Though most of us are familiar with blue-speckled robin's eggs or golden-brown chicken eggs, the sheer range of colors and patterns on bird eggs is awesome: they can be brick-red, marbled in patterns that look like the surface of the Moon, or covered in squiggly lines like a Jackson Pollock painting. Scientists have long believed that this variation in eggshell appearance evolved relatively recently in modern birds, because crocodiles, our feathered friends' closest living relatives, lay eggs that are completely white. Modern birds use only two pigments, red and blue, to create all of the various egg colors, spots, and speckles.

Yale said the team discovered the pigments "in eggshells belonging to Eumaniraptoran dinosaurs, which include small, carnivorous dinosaurs such as Velociraptor". On the other hand, recent findings suggest that the dinosaurs could lay eggs of different colors.

"We infer that egg color co-evolved with open nesting habits in dinosaurs", she said in a statement.

Bird eggs come in a host of attractive colors and patterns, including the coffee-colored swirls of prinia eggs, the deep green of emu eggs, and the brilliant blue of the eggs laid by the humble robin.

To find out whether colored dinosaur eggs shared an evolutionary origin with those of birds, Wiemann and her colleagues amassed well-preserved fragments of fossil eggshell from 15 Cretaceous era dinosaurs and extinct birds, as well as eggshell from living chickens, terns, emus, and alligators.

A team of researchers has found that "birds inherited their egg color from non-avian dinosaur ancestors that laid eggs in fully or partially open nests", Yale University announced Wednesday.

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For an instance, the predator named Deinonychus had a blue egg with brown blotches and the bird-like Oviraptor, famous for its toothless beak, had eggs that were dark blue in colour. One animal coloration expert not involved in the study, professor Mary Caswell Stoddard at Princeton, thought the research would ignite conversations about dinosaur behavior. But many birds have colored eggshells that camouflage their eggs in nests that are exposed to the elements and predators.

Birds are also considered Eumaniraptorans, New Scientist reports, explaining it's a broad group of different types of dinosaurs.

Now the researchers have analyzed egg shells from more. If it's a quail egg, it has inky speckles.

"We can fingerprint the pigments", Wiemann said.

Most likely, it was a single event, even of uncertain mutation, which caused accumulation of biliverdin in the shell and made the eggs for the beginning of blue-green.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says it looks like dinosaurs may have needed these fancy eggs for all the same reasons as birds and maybe some egg-related dinosaur business we haven't even thought of.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: In the journal Nature, they report that they found no pigments in birds' distant dinosaur relatives, such as the groups that include triceratops and the long-necked diplodocus.

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