London: Dinosaurs were caring mothers in their early evolution, say palaeontologists after claiming to have unearthed the oldest-known nesting site of the species, dating back to 190 million years, in South Africa.
An international team, led by the University of Toronto, says that the nesting site at Golden Gate Highlands National Park in South Africa reveals that dinosaurs exhibited care and compassion when it came to raising their young.
The nesting site, which provided clues about evolution of reproductive behaviour in early dinosaurs, actually belonged to Massospondylus, a 20-foot ancestor of long-necked sauropod dinosaurs that lived 190 million years ago, says the team.
In fact, the palaeontologists claim they have discovered at least 10 nests at different rock levels, with up to 34 eggs in each, suggesting the dinosaurs returned to the same spot tolay their eggs.
The finding also showed several clutches of fossilised eggs, many containing embryos. Tiny footprints of the newborn dinosaurs showed that they stayed in the nest long enough to grow to double their size, the British media reported.
"Even though the fossil record of dinosaurs is extensive, we actually have very little fossil information about their reproductive biology, particularly for early dinosaurs," team member Dr David Evans of Royal Ontario Museum in Canada was quoted as saying.
He added: "This amazing series of 190-million-year-old nests gives the first detailed look at dinosaur reproduction early in their evolutionary history, and documents antiquity of nesting strategies that are only known much later in the dinosaur record. It tells us there was quite a bit of parental care involved."
The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.