Antarctica mystery: Origins of 'The Thing' fossil unravelled by scientists

GMT WEDNESDAY JUNE 17 2020 General view of a fossil egg of a marine reptile

GMT WEDNESDAY JUNE 17 2020 General view of a fossil egg of a marine reptile

Using a suite of microscopes to study samples, Legendre found several layers of membrane that confirmed that the fossil was indeed an egg.

For years it was nicknamed "The Thing" because the scientists didn't know what it was, but after sitting in a miscellaneous box at the Natural History Museum in Chile for nearly a decade, someone finally had an idea.

Scientists in the U.S. believe they are closer to solving the mystery of what a peculiar large fossil found in the Antarctic in 2011 could be, saying it is likely to be an enormous soft-shell egg laid by an extinct giant sea lizard.

But by comparing the shell to 259 living reptile eggs, Mr Legendre found a correlation between reptile size and its eggs.

But Mark Norell, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, said the discovery of a group of fossilised embryonic Protoceratops dinosaurs in Mongolia made him revisit the assumption.

The revelation ends almost a decade of speculation about the fossil, and could change thinking about the lives of marine creatures in this era, said Lucas Legendre, lead author of a paper detailing the findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature. This is the world's second-largest egg which was, most likely, laid by a type of extinct sea snake or lizard.

A diagram showing the fossil egg, its parts and size relative to an adult human.The giant egg has a soft shell.

An adult mosasaur is shown next to the egg and a hatchling.

But that left other mysteries to unravel, including what animal laid such an enormous egg - only one bigger has been found, produced by the now-extinct elephant bird from Madagascar.

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"It is from an animal the size of a large dinosaur, but it is completely unlike a dinosaur egg", lead study author Lucas Legendre, geoscientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, said in a news release. "Its eggshell is very thin and poorly mineralized, like in the eggs of lizard and snakes".

Rubilar-Rogers explained: "I showed it to her and, after a few minutes, Julia told me it could be a deflated egg!"

By doing so, the reptile which laid the ancient egg would have had to be more than 20 feet long from the tip of its snout to the end of its body, not counting a tail.

The paper does not discuss how the ancient reptile might have laid the eggs.

Dr Legendre added: "Many authors have hypothesised that this was sort of a nursery site with shallow protected water, a cove environment where the young ones [juvenile mosasaurs] would have had a quiet setting to grow up".

"This discovery represents a major foundational shift, helping us understand constraints on vertebrate egg size and providing an unexpected glimpse of marine reptile reproduction".

The statement said: "One involves the egg hatching in the open water, which is how some species of sea snakes give birth".

Another idea is that the reptile could have deposited its eggs on a beach with "some fancy maneuvering" by keeping half of its body submerged underwater, while it hindside went to work on the shore.

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