World's Oldest Known Fossil Reptile Nests Discovered In Arizona's Petrified Forest

ar to be scratch marks from digging activity and egg impressions, although no eggs or eggshells were found.

The fossil record for reptiles began in the Pennsylvanian Period beginning about 300 million years ago, said Hasiotis and Martin. The oldest previous evidence for reptile-nesting sites include 110 million-year-old sea turtle nests from the Front Range of Colorado and nests of a dinosaur group known as Hadrosaurus from Montana, estimated to be about 90 million years old.

Hasiotis first discovered the ancient reptile nests while conducting research in Arizona's Petrified Forest in 1996. He invited Martin to the site in 1997 and the two returned to conduct additional research in 1998. Surrounding some of the ancient nests are broad, shallow pits or irregular, trampled ground that appears to contain vertebrate tracks, Hasiotis said. The researchers also discovered distinct tracks of phytosaurs about one-half mile from the nesting sites.

The walls in the interior of the nests appears to have been compacted down by the inhabitants. Contemporary crocodile mothers tend to stay near their nests and guard them from predators, while turtles leave their nests immediately after the egg-laying process, said Hasiotis.

Some of the fossil nests are located adjacent to each other, said Hasiotis and Martin, who noted that modern crocodilians and sea turtles sometimes dig between five and 10 pits in an area before picking the appropriate place to lay their eggs. The research project was funded by the Petrified Forest Museum Association in Arizona.


Contact: Stephen Hasiotis
University of Colorado at Boulder

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