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This fossil of an ancient bird that died with an unlaid egg still inside her body is believed to be the first of its kind.
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Scientists have discovered the first fossil bird ever found with an egg preserved inside its body, a new study reports.

which was discovered in northwestern China. The bird lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.

The discovery was a surprise to paleontologists: "We didn't expect anything interesting, but it turned out to be the first fossil bird ever found with an egg inside its body," study lead author Alida Bailleul or China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology customs National Geographic

The finding is amazing because fully formed eggs typically only stay within an adult mom bird for about a day, according to Science magazine.

Artist's conception: The female bird dead in the water on the left (with an unlaid egg not visible inside its abdomen), is the newly discovered species. (Photo: Michael Rothman)

But problems with the egg itself may have caused the bird's death due to "egg-binding." This happens when the egg becomes stuck inside the body, preventing the egg from being laid, and killing the mother bird, the study said. Egg-binding is a serious and lethal condition that is fairly common in small birds undergoing stress.

This condition still occurs in chickens and modern pet birds.

Yet despite being malformed, the egg is excellently preserved, including parts of the egg shell that are often seen in the fossil record, such as traces of the egg membrane and the cuticle,

Overall, the scientists said this fossil is more information about ancient reproduction than any other Mesozoic fossil bird yet discovered.

As for the species name, it means mother bird (Avimaia) and also honors paleontologist Mary Schweitzer (Switzerland).

The study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications.

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