Image: Dinosaur egg
N. Lopez-Martinez and E. Vicens / Palaeontology
A partially preserved Sankofa pyrenaica dinosaur egg sticks up from the sandstone bed where it was found.
updated 4/8/2012 12:02:00 AM ET 2012-04-08T04:02:00

A paleontological surprise may be hiding in your Easter basket. New research indicates that some grocery-store candy eggs are remarkably similar in shape to a newly discovered dinosaur egg, instead of the traditional chicken egg.

"Where do Easter eggs come from? At face value this is a simple question, but any parent trying to provide an answer this Easter might struggle to come up with a satisfactory response," Mark Purnell, a researcher at the University of Leicester, said in a statement. "According to many, the eggs are delivered by the Easter Bunny, but that doesn't really address the question: Where does the Easter Bunny get them from?"

Image: Eggs
Mark Purnell / Univ. of Leicester
The pale gray eggs are from birds, and the darker gray eggs are from dinosaurs. Most Easter eggs, as shown on the right, are similar in shape to bird's eggs, but some are closer to the eggs of dinosaurs. The Easter egg on the left is particularly close to the newly described Sankofa dinosaur egg.

The research started as an analysis of a newly discovered 70-million-year-old egg, one that would've been laid by a mama dinosaur during the Late Cretaceous when Tyrannosaurus rex walked the earth. The researchers named the new species, whose egg was discovered in the Pyrenees, Sankofa pyrenaica. (Sankofa is an Ashanti word meaning "learning from the past.")

To figure out if the egg belonged to an ancient bird or its dinosaur relatives, the team compared the shapes of eggs from birds and dinosaurs. They came up with a mathematical formula to determine and describe all possible egg shapes; next they plotted real eggs, based on size and shape, into this "egg morphospace."

"We found that different species have different-shaped eggs, and that the eggs of dinosaurs are not the same shape as the eggs of birds," study researcher Enric Vicens, of the Universitat Autonoma of Barcelona, in Spain, said in a statement.

In general, birds' eggs tend to be more rounded than dinosaur eggs, which are more elongated, the researchers found. Dinosaur eggs "also tend to be more symmetrical with less distinction between the blunt and the more pointed end," Vicens said.

They found the new Sankofa egg fell somewhere between dinosaur eggs and bird eggs. It's oval-shaped than teardrop-shaped. There are no other eggs like it, the researchers said.

A second, smaller study compared the sizes and shapes of these bird and dinosaur eggs with that of eggs sold in stores in the United Kingdom. They found that dinosaur eggs are closely related, in shape, to some of the modern Easter eggs in the store. The Sankofa egg looks a lot like the Lindor Easter egg chocolate, and less like the Cadbury Creme Egg, which is shaped more like a chicken egg.

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"Many of the smaller eggs to be found commonly on the UK High Street are very similar in shape to hen's eggs, providing strong clues to their original source. Others are more similar in shape to condor eggs," Purnell said. "Perhaps more surprisingly, a few eggs are closer in shape to those of dinosaurs, with one in particular being the same shape as the 70-million-year-old dinosaur egg."

The study was published in the March 2012 issue of the journal Palaeontology.

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© 2012 All rights reserved.

Interactive: Are dinosaurs alive?

Explainer: The world's seven deadliest dinosaurs

  • Copyright 1985 Mark Hallett, "Awakening of Hunger"

    Yeah, it's cliche to say Tyrannosaurus rex was deadly. But the tyrant king was likely true to the billing. Its bone-crushing jaws could splinter prey like toothpicks, after all. And the beast was big, up to 40 feet long, 20 feet tall, and may have topped the scales at nearly 16,000 pounds.

    The king walked on two legs over a vast territory in western North America at the end of the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. Scientists wonder whether T. rex was more a lumbering scavenger or a quick and agile predator, but dead or alive, its meals were big, meaty and bloody.

    T. rex wasn't the only deadly dino, however. The globe was filled vicious killers. Click the arrows above to see more.

    — John Roach, contributor

  • Family diner

    Demetrios M. Vital

    Family meals for Majungasaurus crenatissimus were often bloody affairs of the grimmest sort: Kin were the main course. The evidence of its cannibalistic ways comes from telltale tooth marks on Majungasaurus bones that match up perfectly with the size and spacing of teeth in its jaws.

    The 20-foot-long dinosaur stalked the plains of Madagascar about 70 million years ago. At that time, the crime-scene investigators said, pickings were often slim. Their data indicate Majungasaurus fed on dried out "dino jerky" from its plant-eating compatriots as well as members of its own species. Cannibalism was likely just as common among dinosaurs as it is among living animals, but the evidence is rare.

  • Brow beater

    Todd Marshall

    Eocarcharia dinops' brow was swollen into a massive band of bone. The menacing head piece may have been used as a battering ram against rivals and to attract potential mates. Its blade-shape teeth were reserved for disabling live prey and severing their body parts.

    The 110-million-year-old beast and its snout-nosed, gut-and-carcass-scavenging relative Kryptops palaios were discovered in Africa's Sahara Desert. The approximately 7-foot-tall and 25-foot-long duo likely teamed up with a third carnivore and feasted on the long-necked plant-eater Nigersaurus.

  • Vicious rocker


    The toothy Masiakasaurus knopfleri likely speared prey with its forward projecting front teeth and then sliced and tore the captives into chewy chunks with its bladelike rears. This type of tooth arrangement is otherwise unknown in predatory dinosaurs.

    Scientists believe the German Shepherd sized beast feasted on fish, lizards, and other critters on the southern supercontinent Gondwana in the Late Cretaceous period, about 65 to 70 million years ago.

    The first part of this dinosaur's name means "vicious lizard" and the second part is derived from the Dire Straits singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler, whose music inspired the discoverers as they toiled on the African island nation of Madagascar.

  • Biggest carnivore?

    Prof. Rodolfo Coria / Ap

    At about 40 feet long and weighing an estimated 6 tons, Mapusaurus roseae was one of the biggest meat-eating dinosaurs to ever stalk the Earth. Bones of several individuals were discovered in one place, suggesting the giants may have hunted in packs that could have toppled perhaps the largest dinosaur that ever lived — a 100-foot-long plant eater called Argentinosaurus.

    Mapusaurus lived about 100 million years ago and was bigger than well known Tyrannosaurus rex and possibly larger than its older cousin, Gigantosaurus. Its teeth were narrow and blade like, made for slicing its prey. The bones were discovered in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

  • Going green


    Falcarius utahensis is the living image of a vicious meat eater trying to go vegetarian. Scientists aren't sure if the bird-like relative of Velociraptor had fully kicked its taste for flesh, but its meat-cutting teeth had shrunk to leaf-cutting size and its gut had expanded sufficiently to ferment plants.

    Falcarius walked on two legs and stood about 4.5 feet tall. Head to tail, it was about 13 feet long and wielded sharp, curved, four-inch long claws — perhaps to grab a bite when it fell off the wagon? The dinosaur lived during the Early Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago, in what is today Utah.

  • Plant ripper

    No plants were safe from Gryposaurus monumentensis, a big boned, duck-billed dinosaur that could have eaten any vegetation it stumbled across. Its massive skull packed more than 300 teeth for slicing up fibrous greens. Hundreds more replacement teeth rested in its jawbone for the call-up to action.

    The dinosaur lived in the Late Cretaceous, about 75 million years ago on the western side of a giant, shallow ocean that split North America at that time. The plant-munching beast may have reached 30 feet long as an adult and had a 3-foot-long head.


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