The dinosaur fossil popularly known as “Baby Louie” is identified as the embryo of a new species of giant oviraptorosaur in a study published in Nature Communications this week. The approximately 89-100 million-year-old (Late Cretaceous) fossil was first discovered within a nest of dinosaur eggs in China in the 1990s, but has not been formally described until now.
Junchang Lu, Darla Zelenitsky and colleagues compared the fossil Baby Louie to previously described dinosaur species and determined that it is a new species of caenagnathid oviraptorosaur, a group of bird-like dinosaurs. They named it Beibeilong sinensis, which translates to the ‘Chinese baby dragon’ (‘beibei’ is the Chinese Pinyin word for baby, ‘long’ is the Chinese word for dragon, and ‘sinensis’ is the Latin word for Chinese). The embryo is only 38cm long from its snout to the base of its tail; however, a previous study estimated that dinosaurs from such eggs could reach over one tonne (1,100 kg) as adults.
The Baby Louie embryo is preserved along with a partial clutch of the largest known type of dinosaur egg, called Macroelongatoolithus. This egg type is abundant in the fossil record of the Late Cretaceous from both Asia and North America, suggesting that large caenagnathid oviraptorosaurs were widespread and common at that time.