September 8, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Inferring Dinosaur Family Life from Bones

Observation: a jumble of dinosaur bones in China.  Conclusion: some dinosaurs showed tender loving care to their young.  This is the gist of a paper in Nature this week (Sept. 9),1 reported also on Nature Science Update.
    Discerning behavior from bones is an art, but these bones of 34 psittacosaurs from Liaoning, China provided a few hints.  The specimens were all buried suddenly; there was no dislocation of the bones or exposure to air for long after death.  Many were in upright position.  One adult was present with hatchlings of various ages, all within half a square meter.  These clues seem to indicate they were living together as a harmonious family unit.  The rest of the story, lacking instant replay, must be left to the imagination.
    What is perhaps more interesting is the death scenario.  What buried this family so suddenly?  One can almost imagine them caught completely off guard, looking up with one last look of surprise, to be forever preserved like a snapshot in stone.  Volcanic ash burial (as at Pompeii) does not seem likely due to the absence of glass.  Perhaps they were under a ledge or in an underground burrow that collapsed, or maybe a wave of flood sediments overwhelmed them.  “The uniformity of the entombing sediments, perhaps a result of soil development, prevents identification of any definite event,” say Meng et al. in Nature.
    Allowing that the find indeed indicates parental care for the young, Darwinists are drawing another conclusion: “The unique discovery… suggests that the parental instincts of present-day birds and reptiles such as crocodiles may have a common evolutionary precursor.”  The authors admit, on the other hand: “But, given the disparity in ecology and physiology between crocodilians and birds, homology of their parental care is debatable.”  More finds like this might strengthen the case for homology, they say.


1Meng et al., “Palaeontology: Parental care in an ornithischian dinosaur,” Nature 431, 145 – 146 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431145a.

These dinosaurs might have shown parental care for their hatchlings.  This and other possible nesting sites at other locales tend to support the idea.  It seems a reasonable one, given observation of nurturing behavior among many living species.  But how did this family get buried so suddenly?  A find as rare as this really is astonishing, unless many individuals over a wide area were trapped by the same event, and it was a big one.  Whether it was a regional or global catastrophe, one can decide from the preponderance of evidence.  One thing seems clear; it was not uniformitarianism.  The hatchlings probably did not hold their poses while sediments built up slowly around them over many years.
    Here we go again with the homology storytelling; so now we are to believe that parental loving care was an evolutionary adaptation going all the way back to the presumed common ancestor of crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds, Nelsons and Cleavers.  This really does get so tiring.  Maybe if they were grounded for a week every time they said such nonsense, the little Darwin Club members would learn some manners.

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Categories: Dinosaurs, Fossils

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