The nest, round in shape and measuring 2.3 feet in diameter, contained the babies of dinosaurs that roamed the Earth approximately 70 to 80 million years ago.
The babies were identified as the dinosaur, Protoceratops andrewsi
, which were four-legged herbivores. Experts indicate this prehistoric creature can be likened to a miniature Triceratops, except without the characteristic three-horned profile. Protoceratops was about the size of a sheep and possessed a frill around its neck and had a beak-like mouth.
The newfound nest revealed several infants measured approximately 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in length, and experts have estimated the baby dinosaurs to be no older that one year of age. This nest is the first of its kind uncovered to date. Earlier nests found that were suspected to belong to Protoceratops turned out to belong to another type of dinosaur.
According to Live Science
, researcher David Fastovsky, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Rhode Island, said,
"It's quite striking that there are 15 juvenile Protoceratops here — that seems like a lot to care for," Fastovsky said. "But they were living in a harsh environment, so perhaps mortality rates were high."
Fastovsky is listed as a primary researcher on this project.
While eggs belonging to various types of dinosaurs have been found, Discovery reports
, "finding multiple juveniles in the same dino nest is quite rare."
This find is also remarkable because it gives scientists some insight into the creatures' behavioral actions. Live Science reports the find suggests these herbivores may have given parental care to their young, and continued to do so through the babies' juvenile development.
The regional home of Protoceratops has been identified as in Mongolia, and this discovery was found at Djadochta Formation, Tugrikinshire, Mongolia, which is described as a "searing hot locale in the heart of the Gobi Desert". This is a geographical area that has previously been home to many fossils including two dinosaurs locked in mortal combat
"We don't know what they fed on right now — we don't know what plant life there was," Fastovsky said. "But it was more productive than what we might expect of a dune field, given how many fossils we've found there."
The belief, based on studies and observation, is that the family of dinosaurs was entombed by sand.
Fastovsky said, "The evidence suggests they may have been overrun by migrating dunes during a sandstorm."
Discovery reported the nest and the fossils of the babies are currently housed at the Paleontological Center of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulan Baatar, Mongolia.
Complete details of this discovery
are published in the November issue of the Journal of Paleontology.