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Parental Care

Parental care can be seen in many animals including crocodiles and fish. It is very important in increasing the survival chances of offspring by providing them with protection from predation, food and insulation. Parental care in egg laying animals can be divided into two forms, pre-hatchling and post-hatchling care.

Pre-hatchling care
This usually involves the incubation and guarding of eggs. Dinosaur nests belonging to various species have been found since the 1920’s showing that dinosaurs built nests in a similar way to ground-dwelling birds today. One remarkable fossil is of an adult Oviraptor sitting on top of its nest which contained up to 22 eggs. The posture of the Oviraptor is very bird-like with the hind legs folded above the eggs and forelimbs wrapped round the nest. This suggests that at least some dinosaurs incubated or shaded their eggs by brooding in a similar way to modern birds.

Discoveries of multiple nests which occur in a relatively small area and within the same horizons show that some dinosaurs nested in colonies. One example of this is in the hadrosaur Maiasaura.

Post-hatchling care
Some animals care for their young after they have hatched and the same seems to have been the case in some dinosaurs. Some dinosaur nests, such as those of Maiasaura, have been found to contain juveniles significantly larger than newly hatched individuals. This shows that in some species the young remained within the nest after hatching and therefore suggesting that there was also post-hatchling care.

The presence of juvenile remains within aggregations of single species of dinosaurs also suggests post-hatchling care in some dinosaurs. The close association of an adult Psittacosaurus to 34 small juveniles from Liaoning, China, also provides evidence that parental care in some dinosaurs may have continued after the hatching of their young.


M.A. Norell, J.M. Clark, L.M. Chiappe, D. Dashzeveg, A Nesting Dinosaur, Nature Vol.378 (1995) 774-776.
J.R. Horner, R. Makela, Nest of juveniles provides evidence of family structure in dinosaurs, Nature Vol. 282 (1979) 296-298.
J.R. Horner, Evidence of colonial nesting and “site fidelity” among ornithischian dinosaurs, Nature Vol. 297 (1982).
Q. Ming, J. Liu, D.J. Varricchio, T. Huang, C. Gao, Parental care in an ornithischian dinosaur, Nature Vol. 431 (2004) 145-146.


© 2008 Earth Sciences, University of Bristol