How did dinosaurs build their nests?

Palaeontologists - that’s dinosaur scientists to you and me - are still finding out extraordinary things about the reptiles that roamed our planet tens of millions of years ago. Just like many animals today, dinosaurs needed to keep their eggs warm, and a study published in 2018 revealed that parents used different materials and techniques when building their nests.

As many dino enthusiasts will already know, dinosaurs lived all over the planet, which means they were good at adapting to varying climates. Depending on where the dinosaurs lived, they used different materials for nest building. While some used soil and plant material to build mounds - like crocodiles’ nests - others dug holes in the sand just like turtles.

Nests that were dug into the sand relied mainly on the heat of the sun for incubation, so could only be used by dinosaurs that lived in regions where the air temperature was warm. Nests made of plant matter and soil were heated by microbes as they decayed the organic materials around the eggs. This process made the nests warmer than the surrounding air, enabling the dinosaurs who made them to reproduce in colder climates. Eggs buried in mounds also had to be porous, meaning they had tiny holes to allow oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

According to a study by the University of Calgary in 2020, these weren’t the only two options. Some dinosaurs built open nests on the ground like ostriches. The eggs in these nests were less porous because they were in a more open environment.


Dinosaur parenting

The types of nests built by dinosaurs give some indication of how they parented. Did they sit on their eggs like birds, or leave them to hatch like turtles? The University of Calgary research suggests that the earliest dinosaurs all laid soft-shelled eggs, with hard-shelled eggs only developing later on. The study concluded that there was in fact no ‘typical’ dinosaur nest. Some species laid lots of round, hard eggs in a pile, while others laid just two eggs at a time.

Palaeontologists have discovered fossilised oviraptor skeletons perched over a nest of eggs, which indicates that these dinosaurs brooded like modern birds. Other dinosaurs, such as Maiasaura, are thought to have watched over their offspring for some time after birth. However, some species, like Protoceratops, laid eggs with shells so thin that the weight of the parent would have crushed them. These dinosaurs would, at best, have watched their nests - though some would have left their young to fend for themselves.


Walk with dinosaurs live

Why not find out more about dinosaurs and how they raised their young by walking with dinosaurs live? Dinosaur World Live is among the best dinosaur attractions in the UK, introducing an incredible Jurassic world to the whole family with the use of stunning puppetry. This acclaimed theatre show is suitable for ages three and up, lasting just 50 minutes with no interval. Search for ‘family show near me’ or check out the UK tour dates to find out when Dinosaur World Live is at a theatre near you.