Dinosaurs may not all have been the terrifying creatures portrayed in blockbuster films but could have had a more caring, loving nature.
A fossil found in China of a Psittacosaurus, a small dinosaur that lived about 110 million years ago, shows it may have been a doting parent, scientists said on Wednesday.
"This is a nice, straightforward example of parental care in dinosaurs," said David Varricchio of Montana State University in Bozeman.
Psittacosaurus, which means parrot lizard, was a plant-eating dinosaur that weighed about 50-175 pounds and was roughly 4 feet tall.
Although there is evidence that crocodiles and birds were caring parents, there is little proof that dinosaurs, their two closest living relatives, were affectionate to their offspring.
"To find evidence of parental care in a dinosaur argues that maybe it was universal among these three groups," Varricchio, who examined the specimen, told Reuters.
The fossil was found in 2003 in the Liaoning, an area rich in fossil remains. It shows a single adult dinosaur clustered with 34 youngsters.
It is not clear whether the babies were the offspring of the same mother.
All the young ones are about the same size and are resting in a life-like position, which suggests they could have been buried alive.
None is in a classic dinosaur death pose where the neck is thrown back, according to Varricchio.
He and scientists in China and Taiwan said the dinosaurs could have been buried by volcanic ash or trapped by a collapsed underground burrow.
"The close association of the adult and juvenile skeletons is consistent with a biological relationship and post-hatching parental care," the researchers said in a report in the science journal Nature.