"Dino" Eggs Laid by Big Bird?

A new fossil find in the south of France suggests that many of the "dinosaur" eggs found in the region may actually have been laid by ostrichlike birds. The large bones belong to the oldest flightless bird yet discovered, two scientists claim in the January issue of the Journal of the Geological Society.

The Upper Cretaceous rock outcropping through the vineyards of the Languedoc region have long been famous for fossilized eggs up to 20 centimeters in diameter. Scientists have attributed the eggs to dinosaurs, because they believed there was no other creature around big enough to lay them. Huge flightless birds are not thought to have evolved until the extinction of dinosaurs around 65 million years ago opened up a terrestrial niche.

But two French paleontologists, Eric Buffetaut of the University of Bourgogne and Jean Le Loeuff of the Musée des Dinosaures at Espéraza, say their discovery of a couple of 72-million-year-old bones suggests that a big, flightless bird did in fact coexist with dinosaurs. The broad and heavy pelvis, some 20 by 18 centimeters, is attached to 10 fused lower spinal cord vertebrae. That's more vertebrae than have been found in any known birdlike dinosaurs, but similar in number to those of some Cretaceous birds--as well as similar in size as today's ostrich. The scientists estimate that the creature, which they've christened Gargantuavis philoinos, weighed in at an ostrichlike 141 kg.

Other experts say the scientists' claims are plausible. Mike Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, points out that there weren't many kinds of dinosaurs in the area and "there are more egg types known from the region than kinds of dinosaurs." Moreover, he adds, "molecular biologists have recently been telling us that many bird groups evolved much earlier than suggested by the fossil record."