Was Egg-Laying the Beginning of the End for Dinosaurs?
The fact that dinosaurs laid eggs put them at a considerable disadvantage compared to viviparous mammals. Weighing in at four tons, the mother animal was 2,500 times heavier than its newly hatched dinosaur baby. By way of comparison, a mother elephant, which is just as heavy, only weighs 22 times as much as its new-born calf. The staggering difference in size between newly hatched dinosaurs and their parents was because there are limits to the size eggs can become. In addition, new-born mammals occupy the same ecological niche as their parents: As they are fed with milk directly by the mother, they do not take any niche away from smaller species. With large dinosaurs, however, it was an entirely different story: They did not only occupy the adults’ one niche during their lifetime, but also had many of their own to pass through – from niches for animals with a body size of a few kilos and those for ten, 100 and 1,000-kilo animals to those that were occupied by the fully grown forms of over 30,000 kilograms.
It was this combination that resulted in their mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, according to a team of researchers from the Zoological Society of London and the University of Zurich. All the larger animals with a body weight from approximately ten to 25 kilos died out. Mammals had many species below this threshold, from which larger species were able to develop after the calamity and occupy the empty niches again. The dinosaurs, however, lacked the species that would have been able to reoccupy the vacant niches.