‘Baby Louie’ dinosaur identified as a new species

Famous embryo fossil can add Beibeilong sinensis to its name

illustration of Beibeilong sinensis

WARMING UP  Nesting birdlike dinosaurs called Beibeilong sinensis incubated their eggs (illustrated). This new species was identified thanks to a recent examination of “Baby Louie,” a famous dinosaur embryo discovered in the 1990s.

Zhao Chuang

A fossil dinosaur embryo known as “Baby Louie” has a new name. It belongs to a newly identified species of dinosaur called Beibeilong sinensis, researchers report May 9 in Nature Communications.

In the 1980s and 1990s, farmers found thousands of fossilized dinosaur eggs in the rocks of Henan Province in China and sold them overseas. It turned out that one chunk of rock, purchased by a company that sells museum-quality fossils and rock specimens, held not only eggs but also an embryonic dinosaur skeleton. It was dubbed “Baby Louie,” after a National Geographic photographer whose images of it appeared in a cover story for the magazine.

Paleontologists knew Baby Louie was some kind of oviraptorosaur, a two-legged, birdlike dinosaur. But its species was a mystery. So in 2015, Junchang Lü of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing and colleagues returned to the site in China where the eggs were excavated. They analyzed fossils there and examined Baby Louie’s remains, now housed in the Henan Geological Museum. The embryo measures 38 centimeters from its snout to the start of its tail and dates to about 90 million years ago.

Based on the structure of Baby Louie’s facial bones and other anatomical features, the team declared the dinosaur a new species. In Chinese, Beibei means “baby” and long means “dragon.”

Baby Louie’s skeleton was found with six to eight similar-looking dinosaur eggs. This type of dino egg is the largest identified to date and appears to have been abundant, leading paleontologists to think that birdlike dinosaurs like Baby Louie were common in the Late Cretaceous.

NEWLY NAMED A famous dinosaur fossil embryo called Baby Louie is shown at left atop of the eggs (gray) it was found with. The drawings at right show how the skeleton and embryo curled up inside an egg. H. Pu et al/Nature Communications 2017 (left); Z. Chuang (right)

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on May 12, 2017, to reflect that it is “paleontologists” who typically study dinosaur bones.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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