Do paleontologists dream of electric dinosaurs? Investigating the presumed inefficiency of dinosaurs contact incubating partially buried eggs
Hogan, Jason D.
Varricchio, David J.
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Troodon formosus, a theropod from the Late Cretaceous, is one of the few species of dinosaurs with multiple nest sites uncovered. It has been consistently demonstrated that eggs within these nests would have been partially buried in life—an exceedingly rare state in modern vertebrates. There has been debate over Troodon's capacity to engage in thermoregulatory contact incubation, especially regarding an adult's ability to efficiently supply partially buried eggs with energy. An actualistic investigation was undertaken to determine the thermodynamic efficiency of contact incubating partially buried eggs. An efficient system would keep eggs at temperatures closer to the surrogate parent than the ambient, without prohibitively high energy input. For the experiment, a surrogate dinosaur was created and used in both indoor controlled ambient temperature trials and in an outdoor variant. Even with ambient temperatures that were likely cooler than Cretaceous averages, the results showed that contact incubating partially buried eggs did seem to confer an energetic advantage; egg temperatures remained closer to the surrogate than ambient in both indoor and outdoor tests. Still, critics of contact incubating partially buried eggs are correct in that there is a depth at which adult energy would fail to make much of an impact—perhaps more relevant to buried eggs, as partially buried eggs would be in contact with an adult and likely above the thermal input threshold. Additionally, results from this experiment provide evidence for a possible evolutionary path from guarding behavior to thermoregulatory contact incubation.
Hogan, Jason D., and David J. Varricchio. “Do Paleontologists Dream of Electric Dinosaurs? Investigating the Presumed Inefficiency of Dinosaurs Contact Incubating Partially Buried Eggs.” Paleobiology 47, no. 1 (2021): 101–14. doi:10.1017/pab.2020.49.