Eggs, like people, have unique personalities

The final group of intrepid scientists in this troupe is focusing its efforts on investigating the morphology of each specimen. Chantell Bury, Paige Madison, Jasmine Croghan and I (Jordan Drost) have spent the last few weeks at the end of a nonstop assembly line of fossilized eggs. Morphology is, put simply, the study of the physical features of an object (in this case, fossil eggs). Now, this sounds simple enough; after all, how many physical characteristics can an egg sport, right? Wrong… well, sort of. It turns out that eggs, like people, have a rather annoying propensity for unique personalities. Essentially, no two eggs are the same. That’s where we come in.

On a daily basis, we go through each egg and observe and catalogue each and every physical detail in a table we set up for the purposes of making said cataloguing a little more straight forward. When we started, we figured it would all be pretty straight forward, but we quickly discovered that we’d underestimated our opponents. To start, we measure each egg (length, width, and height) and try to provide a general description as to the egg’s symmetry and shape (spherical, oblong, oblate-aka: flat). Unfortunately, eggs don’t fossilize without a fight and a lot of them have taken on some pretty bizarre shapes. Have you ever tried to determine the dimensions of warped doughnut?

Next, we go through and take shell thickness measurements, add them all up and average them. Given that the eggshells are usually never more than a few fractions of an inch thick, things get sticky and when an egg decides it’s going to have a shell with different thicknesses all the way around, it gets even more weird. We also have to check out the texture on the surface of the egg. To the naked eye, the shell looks like a black field with a bunch of little pale spots, but under a microscope they look like Scottish highlands with lochs and fields and flocks of sheep… SO MANY SHEEP! Color, too, is an important feature and you’d be surprised at what a spectrum of color you see under that microscope.

Nests are usually synonymous with eggs, but are a lot more difficult to preserve than the eggs themselves. Nevertheless, we keep an eye out for anything grossly resembling a nest, which is a backhanded way of saying we scrutinize how close the eggs sit to one another and how they stack up, kind of like chaperones at a middle school dance.

And finally, when all of that is done, we go through and in as few words as are humanly possible describe anything odd or interesting about the way the eggs look. We try to observe the way the shells break, the way they deform, the size of the pieces of shell and how they sit on the egg, how much of the egg is still intact, the orientation of the egg, the way it relates to the rocks that cover it… the list goes on.

The most exciting part of all of this (arduous as the process may sound) is seeing the patterns that begin to emerge. As different as every egg is, they all share some characteristics that we’ve been seeing over and over and it’s those characteristics that paint a picture of how these eggs got to where they are today. Additionally, this information (in concert with the information from the Sedimentology and Taphonomy groups) is sparking our imagination with ideas of where to go next and what we need to study. Our minds are just abuzz with exciting new possibilities!

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17 Responses to Eggs, like people, have unique personalities

  1. Soo Jin Song says:

    When I went to the museum to observe the dinosaurs’ eggs, I was also astonished to find the eggs so different from another. I expected the eggs to all look the same, like chickens and birds. The way they were piled on top of each other varied from eggs to eggs as well. The most I would need are microscopes and rulers to precisely examine the eggs. If I took the time to do it, I would definitely be able to observe and closely examine the details to see what actually surrounds the exterior shell or covering of the egg (how thick and long it is). Furthermore, because the eggs are shown to be uniquely different from another, one can infer that not all dinosaurs were the same. Also, because the eggs were so well-preserved for us to still see the remaining details, one can tell that the eggs did not undergo much changes and its nesting area served them well. The eggs must have been preserved in muds that the muds hardened and kept the eggs in place, preventing them from getting squashed or destroyed.

  2. Sean Casey says:

    What these students found in China pretty accurately describes what I saw at the museum. The displays were organized to show the eggs being in nests and sort of organized, stacked on top of each other. Even though they were presumably all from the same dinosaur no two were even remotely the same. The pattern the shells were cracked and shattered in, the shape, size, density, each egg was unique. I would infer that that these eggs were probably fossilized under a lot of pressure, maybe in a swamp or wetland that dried up and had sediment dumped on top of it.

  3. Danielle Ferguson says:

    When observing the eggs in the museum I expected to come across these huge eggs to go along with the huge dinosaurs that grew out of them, I was definitely wrong. The eggs were all pretty small compared to the sizes of dinosaurs, and I learned at the museum that dinosaur eggs never got any bigger than 12 inches long. I had a ruler with me at the museum, but if I took the time and better studied the eggs, I would need a micrscope as well. A microscope would help to better identify characteristics of the eggs that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Other characteristics that the kids in China saw that I also observed were color, shape, size, cracks, and location in the nest etc. If I were just looking at an egg, I would not be able to see or know it’s shell thickness, but I did take in account the overall egg thickness. The dinosaur eggs were surprisingly mostly the same color, all in a different shade of black or a gray like color, but like the students in the article stated, under a microscope you can see so many different colors that you can’t see by simply looking at the eggs. When it came to the nests, I also expected big straw and stone nests that the eggs nicely were laid in, but of course after observing the eggs in the nests in the museum, I found out that they were sort of stuck in the nest groupings by muds and different sediment material, which is also the reason for the eggs being so well preserved.

  4. Marta Sydoryak says:

    After my visit to the museum I was able to take a much less detailed look at dinosaur eggs in comparison to the concentrated and intense research and observation being performed by Chantell Bury, Paige Madison, Jasmine Croghan, and Jordan Drost in Zhejiang Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China. Using a microscope and other tools they were able to truly “mentally dissect” these eggs and hypothesize on the origin and condition of each egg. During my visit to the museum all I really had in order to evaluate the egg was a ruler and my vision, we drew rough sketches of the eggs and tried to make hypotheses about the eggs. One comparison that I did find was the beginning method, as Jordan Drost states: “To start, we measure each egg (length, width, and height) and try to provide a general description as to the egg’s symmetry and shape (spherical, oblong, oblate-aka: flat)”. This is similar to our task, as we drew rough sketches of the eggs and recorded its length and width. I thought that the preservation of the eggs was rather outstanding for how old they are. It must have happened very rapidly, like a rapid cooling, for I believe that the eggs were in pretty good condition and pretty well reserved for how long they have been existing. What I did not notice when I was at the museum that the students in Zhejiang did was the oddly shaped eggs. Most of the eggs that we viewed were round with little deformities while on the contrary the eggs that the students were viewing had “dimensions of a warped doughnut”, bizarre shapes. All in all if we had the correct resources and dedication as these students did, then we would definitely be able to find out more detailed information about the eggs and have a closer look into the history of each egg.

  5. Shannon Spezzano says:

    After reading this blog entry, I realized exactly how hard it is to examine all these eggs and just how much effort was put into the students’ research. As the Jordan says in his entry, I thought the process was going to be much easier than it actually was. While at the museum, I tried to get an accurate description of the eggs like the students did. I measured the egg length (approximated) and tried to describe a general description of the eggs too. The eggs were sealed off at the museum and we didn’t get a chance to thoroughly examine them, but I think I would be able to see all the things the students did if given enough time. I know I am not as experienced, but it seems very interesting to be able to do such hands on research as they did. I believe with some time and hard effort on my part I would be able to make an accurate description of the eggs. There are so many properties of the eggs to consider including color, shape, size, etc. I believe that can tell us a lot about the biology of the dinosaur they belong too. For example, if the eggs were bigger, then it is possible that the dinosaurs grew to be big themselves. The shape of the eggs also made me consider what type of dinosaur they came from. If the eggs were longer, then possibly they belonged to a dinosaur that grew to be really tall. Also, the eggs from the museum were preserved very well. Although there were cracks in the eggs, that is understandable. The cracks could have been made from the dinosaurs hatching or even from being crushed by mud and rock for so long. I found it interesting how all the eggs were arranged in an organized fashion. One grouping looked like they were stacked on top of each other while the other two groupings seemed to be placed all next to each other. I figured that the eggs wouldn’t be so organized after being buried for so long, but I guess that is what happens with fossils; they are preserved and kept intact.

  6. Hillary Redisch says:

    My initial reaction to the article was not all that surprised to be frank. I would expect the students overseas to go into great depth and descriptions about the eggs that they were examining. All the experiments were interesting to read about, but I would have loved for them to do some carbon dating and composition makeup of the egg. I would have definitely asked for specific equipment to extract that type of information because a microscope would not have been enough. An x-ray machine would be a vital instrument because it would not cause damage to the shells. It would give the students and scientists an image of whatever, if anything is in the shell. As I visited the museum with some friends and we were actually able to bounce ideas and thoughts with each other and talk about the eggs more in detail. We asked each other questions as to the general characteristics of each shell. Then we were able to talk about the “what if’s”. Like what if instead of black, the egg was a dark green. Would that change the way the egg absorbed sunlight and heat? Would if affect the growth process of the dinosaur? the characteristics about the dinosaur eggs could tell us where the dinosaur lived, what it ate, when it layed the eggs, and lots of other little detailed information. The hands on experience for the students in China was probably the most valuable information they could have gotten from the eggs.

  7. Jen Parmer says:

    I cannot imagine having to observe hundreds of dinosaur eggs. It must be very difficult to find nicely preserved eggs considering they had to have survived millions of years. I remember while at the museum seeing the eggs broken. The student describes the challenge of deciphering how the egg originally looked from the morphed shape from being fossilized. I think that if I had the resources to do close observations on dinosaur it would be cool to see patterns in the eggs, just as the student finds it interesting.

  8. Scott Solomon says:

    I must say that this blog really shows that eggs are way more than small spheres. As Jordan stated “you’d be surprised at what a spectrum of color you see under a microscope.” This was my main issue, as well as everyone’s it seems, when visiting the museum at the beginning of this project. It would have been more beneficial if we were actually able to hold the eggs and examine them properly instead of through a glass case. I’m glad we got to read this blog entry because it really does a thorough job of explaining the features a paleontologist needs to take into consideration when looking at eggs. While I was not surprised at the actual sizes of the eggs studied, I would never have even thought to measure the actual thickness of the egg shells. Clearly these students went through just about every process in examining these eggs even to the smallest detail such as the Sedimentology, which probably showed the differences between the eggs better than any other. However, I wish Jordan would have explained the actual species of some of the eggs to give a better mental image of what was being described. Overall, I found the this experiment to be very similar to the one’s we’ve been doing in our own labs and it’s intriguing to see how the professionals conduct their research.

  9. Allison Wiedman says:

    I think an interesting point that is made in this blog is that while the eggs were obviously fossilized and preserved to some extent they were also warped in many ways as well. When I went to the museum and viewed the eggs in the cases I could see cracks and broken fragments but I did not initially consider whether there were differences in the thickness of the eggs or whether their shape had been warped or not. I suppose this could be due to the fact that the eggs were in cases and were not readily available for closer inspection. If one were to be able to go into an in depth analysis such as these students then maybe I would have been able to notice the differences and changes they were able to see. Taking into consideration now how the eggs can become warped through the process of fossilization I think I can better understand why there is so much controversy and debate over identifying dinosaur species. Considering eggs can become warped and can sometimes have differences so stark I can see how it would be easy to misidentify two eggs which may be of the same origin as coming from two separate species. However as the students in this post point out they were able to catalog a large number of eggs and inspect every minute detail so that they were able to see not only differences but many overlying similarities as well. There was clearly an advantage in their wide range of resources and ability to be hands on with the egg specimens.

  10. Julianna Landolt says:

    Before going to the museum for the original portion of the Dinosaur project I had no illusion that we would be looking at round, perfectly intact, and similar dinosaur eggs. However, when I looked at the field sheet and saw it called for a measurement I was not expecting the eggs to look the way that they did. This blog post from the MSU students phrases it perfectly, “Unfortunately, eggs don’t fossilize without a fight and a lot of them have taken on some pretty bizarre shapes.” Taking a measument of the haphazard broken remains of the eggs was a challenge but opened my eyes to just how different these eggs could be. Looking at the eggs through the glass case prohibited us from truly getting a grasp for how different and original each surviving fossil is. This post, because they got to have first hand contact with the fossils, explains how each fossil appears under a microscope, and the color of the rock and the physical characteristics that we simply could not observe at the museum. It sounds that the most educational part of their work is that, because they were there for so long with great resources, that they got to see patterns emerge and the stark differences among the eggs.

  11. Tony Cassero says:

    When i went to the museum and observed the dinosaur eggs i was surprised by their size. I was amazed such giant creatures could come from such relatively small eggs. At the museum I did not notice major differences between the eggs, but i did note that some eggs had more cracks than others and slightly different bends and curves. Also the blog made me remember that the eggs at the museum where not evenly spaced out. Some would be six inches apart while others would be right next to each other. I wonder if the eggs that were closer together were more similar than the eggs that were further away. This blog also made me realize that the eggs are not especially thick. Since they are significantly bigger than the chicken eggs I am used to i assumed that the eggs would be at least an inch thick. Even if i had spent more time at the museum i don’t believe i would have been able to make observations as detailed and accurate as the ones in the blog. This is due to them having better technology than me, their microscope, and the fact that while they actually got to handle the dinosaur eggs. In contrasted I was restricted from touching the eggs since they were at a museum shielded by glass.

  12. Katie Dende says:

    Reading this student’s blog, and thinking back to my visit at the dinosaur museum, I realized that the uncovering of certain eggs (using different techniques and methods) can provide fossil hunters with evidence and important information (ex: types of dinosaur eggs, hatchings, nests, their surrounding environments, and even their parents roles in protecting them). If I were supplied the appropriate resources, and took the time to examine the egg’s characteristics I feel that I would be able to see many of the things that the MSU student described (such as the determining the egg’s measurements/averages, symmetry, surface texture, (using the microscope) identifying eggs that appear to be clustered/close together, (help identify possible nest locations) and recording the egg’s data information in the chart). However, I feel that I would definitely need some assistance with identifying and determining an egg’s nest, because it was mentioned that they rarely remain intact. In addition, I feel that I would need to educate myself on what to look out for when recording unusual/interesting information about an egg (for instance, the factors to look out for with the way the egg shell breaks off/distorts, the direction of the egg, the connection the eggs and the rocks that cover them have. Another thing I would need to be more informed about would be the similar traits each egg possesses in determining how the eggs arrived at their present location today. Observation of the physical structures/characteristics of dinosaur eggs provides valuable information about the different ways eggs are preserved. Some ways which these properties are beneficial are that they provide scientists with clues and information about both the nesting activities (such as the different egg arrangements, the parental nurturing, cracking of eggs, and possible explanations for the cracks) and the type of environmental setting the dinosaur eggs existed in (based on the egg preservation, the type of rock that is covering the dinosaur egg can depict if the egg lived in a wet or dry season, hot/cold temperature, etc).

  13. Steven Giampapa says:

    Although the students in China observed dinosaur eggs in a similar fashion as I did at the Academy of Natural Sciences, they also put way more energy into it. For instance, these students research practically every day of their life. Also, they looked at many more eggs and had many different unique patterns to look for. I was very interested in the fact that no two eggs are the same. ALl the eggs at the museum (in the same group) looked the same to me; maybe one day I’ll have as much background in fossils as these students do and I’ll be able to differentiate the vast and complex differences between eggs.

  14. Tyler Sewell says:

    While at Academy of Natural Sciences I was able to observe the length, height, width and color of the fossilized dinosaur eggs, like the MSU students. Unfortunately I was unable to feel the egg’s texture and look close enough to observe the thickness of the eggs shell or the array of colors, like what John talked about in his blog post. While I was reading the John’s blog post I was surprise that no two eggs are the same. I thought about how regular chicken eggs look exactly the same as each other. I wonder if they look different due to the fossilization process over millions of years or that’s just the way they are. If I had the resources and time I believe I would be able to see all of what the MSU students saw with their eggs. I think the fossilized eggs could tell us about the environment it originally came from and how it was preserved.

  15. McKenna Gibson says:

    When I read this blog of what the MSU students experienced, it reminded me of a lot of the things that I discovered while at the Museum of Natural Sciences. Like these students I observed that the eggs had many cracks and were mostly fragments. Jordan stated “Given that the eggshells are usually never more than a few fractions of an inch thick, things get sticky and when an egg decides it’s going to have a shell with different thicknesses all the way around, it gets even more weird.” I can relate to this experience because I had a hard time measuring the shells. There was a lot of cracks. They also were incased and hard to see. I believe that if I had the resources and time to do so I would be able to thoroughly examine the dinosaur eggs and see what the students observed. The properties that I observed in the dinosaur eggs at the museum lead me to believe that dinosaur eggs are different for each dinosaur specie. Not every single one is exactly the same. Also, the eggs look as if they were dried into the mud and that is they way that they were preserved. This leads me to believe that these dinosaur eggs were once in a semi-wet environment which dried up and incased the shells into the mud.

  16. Dan Tait says:

    One of the more striking aspects of Drost’s blog post, as it relates to my experience looking at the eggs for the first part of this assignment, is this notion of how to discern, then quantify, the original shape, size, texture, etc, of a fossilized egg that has be warped into “…bizarre shapes”. I recalled, wondering about something similar, with regards to the broken egg fossils, and how it would be like a jigsaw puzzle to try and figure out exactly how it was before it broke, and then was fossilized. From there one would have to compare that puzzle egg to a whole host of other samples to only begin to narrow down the origin of said egg. Which ultimately brings up and interesting observation, which has been echoed by many of my fellow students’ posts, that being this notion of how odd it is that eggs, which to the naked eye, all look very similar, yet are all very unique. I feel that this could potentially be akin to how we regard our own fingerprints, and how we understand, and even celebrate that uniqueness, but are also slightly mystified when we see that same process at work across nature. Ultimately this scientific observation and quantification of eggs, coupled with the various responses might lead one to consider the question, why are people, (myself included) surprised, to varying degrees, by this complexity that is like akin to our own. That is of-course if we so wish to make this into an existential dalliance.

  17. Kris Adams says:

    Doing field research at The Academy of Natural Sciences was an inspirational opportunity to have hands on experience in some of the everyday research that paleontologists and others do. The MSU student described some of the techniques used to categorize fossil eggs. One of the things I found really neat was the fact that some of the practices utilized were ones that I partook in as well. Some of these commonalities were measuring the length, width, and height of the eggs; noting the scale; describing unique features; taking note of color, shape, and surrounding rock, all of what the MSU student described. What is a shame is in order to do complete research, you would need access to a laboratory, field specimens, technologies, previously recorded information, things that an undergraduate student does not most likely have. I do feel that if I were afforded the opportunity to have access to needed supplies/inventory that I would be able to document what is needed in order to categorize fossil eggs of dinosaurs. I feel that with all of the physical traits charted and detailed, the fossil eggs would be able to tell us information pertaining to environment, growth size and perhaps even how fast they grew, how many dinosaur eggs were around in each nest (giving information to how many dinosaurs it would take to keep a population alive), and so much more. I think also that the fossils themselves are extremely indicative of the needed atmosphere and chemical compositions in order to preserve the eggs. This could and does provide clues as to certain environmental factors in those time periods. What is really neat about research is that anyone can do it. With specialized research (ie paleontologists, graduate students, experts) and everyday research done by people like me, I feel that the world is slowly but surely coming to know and understand so much about the past.

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