When we think of reptiles, we usually don’t think of dedicated parents taking care of their offspring – that is a trait more commonly associated with the nurturing mammals and dutiful birds. With a few exceptions, such as crocodiles, most modern reptiles offer their babies little to no protection and instead leave them to fend for themselves. An early aquatic reptile from China did not fit this stereotype, however.
The animals found in the 160-million-year-old fossil unearthed in China were part of an ancient lineage of reptiles called Choristoderes. These were usually aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures distantly related to birds and crocodiles – both of which care for their young to some extent. The fossil consisted of a 2-foot-long adult surrounded by six smaller animals, presumed to be juveniles of the same species, Philydrosaurus.
The fact that all the proposed juveniles are around the same size is evidence that they were born from the same clutch. They were found in very close proximity to each other, leading the researchers involved in the find to believe that the adult is actually the babies’ parent – even though the possibility that they were all swept together by coincidence was considered.