After more than two decades since the dinosaur known as “Baby Louie” was discovered, scientists were able to give it a species name and a place in the dinosaur family.
Baby Louie was found around late 1992 and early 1993 in Henan Province in China, and a piece of the nest was sent to the United States. The fossil remained more than twenty years in private hands outside China, and scientists were reluctant to publish research about it.
Now, researchers were finally able to study the fossil and grant it its place in the dinosaur family, in which the prehistoric animal is identified as baby giant oviraptorosaur.
Baby Louie was an unusual discovery
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Nature, in which researchers disclosed the dinosaur’s name –Beibeilong sinensis- which means Chinese baby dragon. Baby Louie was discovered in the 90s when farmers dug out a fossilized nest in Henan Province.
“We don’t really know the legality of the specimen as the fossil laws in China were apparently gray at the time,” said Darla Zelenitsky, a dinosaur researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada and co-author of the new study, according to The Washington Post. “I honestly don’t know what the laws were.”
It is unknown whether Baby Louie was smuggled or not out of the country, but the fossil wound up in private hands. The uncertainty around the legal status of the fossil slowed down scientists. Zelenitsky said that the lengthy time the fossil spent outside China slowed down their research, as they wanted to see it returned to China before publication.
A fossil seller in Colorado named Charles Magovern had acquired the eggs and uncovered an infant skeleton amid the clutch. Magovern invited several experts to look at the fossils, and one paleontologist who examined the baby dinosaur in 1995 said he thought Baby Louie was a therizinosaur, an oddly shaped dinosaur that had giant claws. However, another paleontologist who viewed the skeleton disagreed with the therizinosaur thesis. As Magovern had no scientific name or certainty about the dinosaur’s origin, he nicknamed the skeleton after Louie Psihoyos, the National Geographic photographer who ultimately directed the Oscar-winning documentary film “The Cove.”
“In the early 1990s, dinosaur embryos were exceedingly rare,” said Zelenitsky, according to The Washington Post. “Baby Louie was thus a very unique and unusual fossil.”
The fossil eggs in the nest were huge, as their size was more than twice the length of a modern ostrich egg, which was highly unusual. Also, finding complete skeletons of baby dinosaurs were really hard to come by, adding to the oddity of the finding.
Baby Louie’s nest probably measured around three yards
In the late 1990s, Zelenetisky and her research team had determined that Baby Louie was an oviraptorosaur, a type of dinosaur with two legs often found guarding their nests. This behavior in the oviraptorosaur led scientists in the 1920s to believe the dinosaurs stayed close to nests to eat nearby eggs, but later studies found that they stayed close to guard their eggs, much like birds. Scientists believe Baby Louie died probably during a flood, in a ring-shaped nest of the type made by oviraptorosaurs. They noted that Baby Louie also lacked teeth in its lower jaw, just like oviraptors.
Scientists based their research on skeletal features that are typically constant during the dinosaur’s maturation, like the toothless jaw. They noted that Baby Louie was a giant dinosaur, with its egg weighing eight to ten pounds. They estimated that its nest would have been about three yards across. However, before scientists could carry on with their study, they had to wait for Baby Louie to return to China. In 2001, the fossil was displayed in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, so they had to wait longer. Finally, in 2013, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum gave the fossil to the Henan Geological Museum in Zhengzhou, its current location.
Two other discoveries ensured Baby Louie’s oviraptorosaur identification. In 2015, five paleontologists went to western Henan Province to examine the site of the original excavation, and they took one of the farmers who initially made the discovery. In February, they discovered additional oviraptorosaur egg fragments.
Also, in 2007 a different team of Chinese paleontologists found an adult specimen belonging to a new, large species of oviraptorosaur, called Gigantoraptor. Before this finding, Zelenitsky calculated that an adult Beibeilong probably weighed around at least 3,300 pounds, which is in the low range for an adult Gigantoraptor. Baby Louie is only the third recorded fossil from the group of giant oviraptorosaurs. Zelenitsky said the discovery was fortunate, and that they were lucky as many fossils collected illegally –hypothetically speaking- often disappear.
“It’s a very significant specimen,” said Zelenitsky. “This was nice. It was a happy ending for sure.”
Source: The Washington Post