Parenthood in the Age of Dinosaurs

On Monday, paleontologists announced the discovery of a fossilized family of philydrosaurs, smallsemi-aquatic reptiles that lived in the Early Cretaceous period (100-146 million years ago). Found in Liaoning Province, China, the family included a clutch of six juveniles accompanied by an adult parent, making it among the oldest evidence of post-natal child-rearing in the fossil record.

“That Philydrosaurus shows parental care of the young after hatching suggests protection by the adult, presumably against predators,” wrote the authors of a study of the fossils, recently published in Geosciences Journal.

Concept drawing of the Philydrosaurus family. Image: Chung Zhao

Drawing of the Philydrosaurus
family. Image: Chung Zhao

“Their relatively small size would have meant that choristoderes [the larger order of which Philydrosaurus is part] were probably exposed to high predation pressure and strategies, such as live birth, and post-natal parental care may have improved survival of the offspring,” the researchers added. Though this particular family lived in the Early Cretaceous, the protective maternal instinct among choristoderes may have evolved as early as the Middle Jurassic.

It’s very rare for paleontologists to find such a clear smoking gun of parental investment in the fossil record. There are, for instance, some ancient examples of animals that incubated their eggs, including the 450-million-year-old crustacean Luprisca incuba. But concrete signs of dedicated child-rearing after the young are hatched or born is harder to come by.

Attribution: Motherboard


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