Cannonball-Sized Dinosaur Eggs Filled With Crystals Discovered in China

Crystal-filled dinosaur eggs the size of cannonballs have been discovered in China by paleontologists.

The two fossilized eggs are from a new species of dinosaur, which the scientists figured out using the eggs' larger sizes and tight arrangement of eggshell units, as well as their uniquely spherical shape, according to a paper published in the Journal of Palaeogeography. The eggs were also filled with clusters of calcite crystals.

"Here we describe two newly discovered dinosaur eggs from the Upper Cretaceous Chishan Formation in the Qianshan Basin, Anhui Province, East China," the paper's authors wrote.

"New oospecies Shixingoolithus qianshanensis represents the first discovery of oogenus Shixingoolithus from the Qianshan Basin. S. qianshanensis also provides new paleontological evidence for the identification, division and correlation of the Upper Cretaceous–Lower Paleocene strata in the Qianshan Basin, Anhui Province, East China," the paper said.

Paleontologists in China have discovered crystal-filled dinosaur eggs the size of cannonballs, like the one pictured above. The fossilized eggs are from a new species of dinosaur. Qing He et al./Journal of Palaeogeography

As with modern reptiles and birds, it is believed that most dinosaurs reproduced by laying eggs. It is difficult to determine what species of dinosaur laid the eggs because the embryo inside is nearly never preserved, according to the American Museum of Natural History. Therefore, other properties of the egg, like the size, shape and mineral structure, are used to classify dinosaur eggs into oospecies.

"Dinosaur eggs in the Upper Cretaceous of China are characterized by prodigious quantities, abundant types and wide distribution. Approximately 16 oofamilies and 35 oogenera have been reported in China," the paper's authors write.

As well as a variety of dinosaur eggs, a range of dinosaur fossils and footprints have been found across China. In Liaoning Province, more than 60 species of plants, nearly 90 species of vertebrates and about 300 species of invertebrates have been identified, thanks to the unique geological features of the area, according to National Geographic.

"Due to the effects of weathering, the outmost part of the eggshells and the corresponding secondary eggshell units are not preserved in the newly discovered Qianshan dinosaur eggs," the authors wrote.

One of the eggs is damaged, revealing the crystallized calcite inside.

According to a 2014 paper published in the journal Cretaceous Research, Shixingoolithus eggs may have hatched into ornithopods, which were herbivorous dinosaurs that walked on two legs and were between 6 and 30 feet from head to tail.

These eggs are thought to have been from the Upper Cretaceous–Lower Paleocene era. The species of dinosaur that laid them were likely wiped out in the end-Cretaceous extinction event triggered by the impact of the Chicxulub asteroid 66 million years ago.

"The asteroid hit at high velocity and effectively vaporized," professor Paul Barrett, a dinosaur researcher at London's Natural History Museum, said in a museum blog post. "It made a huge crater, so in the immediate area there was total devastation. A huge blast wave and heatwave went out and it threw vast amounts of material up into the atmosphere."

Barrett continued, "It sent soot traveling all around the world. It didn't completely block out the Sun, but it reduced the amount of light that reached the Earth's surface. So it had an impact on plant growth."

As plants died, herbivores died, then carnivores perished, which wiped out 75 percent of all animals on the planet.