‘Wonderchicken’ fossil from Belgium reveals dawn of modern birds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A fossil unearthed in Belgium dubbed the “Wonderchicken” is offering a unprecedented glimpse into the early evolution of recent birds on the twilight of the age of dinosaurs, proper ahead of an asteroid have an effect on altered the process lifestyles on Earth.

Researchers on Wednesday described a partridge-sized hen named Asteriornis maastrichtensis that inhabited a seaside setting 66.7 million years in the past right through the Cretaceous Period. It represents the oldest-known anatomically fashionable hen, sharing cranium characteristics with these days’s landfowl like chickens, turkeys, quail and pheasants in addition to waterfowl like geese, ducks and swans.

Birds advanced from small feathered dinosaurs kind of 150 million years in the past. Many birds retained primitive options like enamel till the asteroid struck some 66 million years in the past, triggering a mass extinction that erased three-quarters of Earth’s plant and animal species.

A present estimate for the illusion of the typical ancestor of all 11,000 residing species of birds is someplace between 100 million and 70 million years in the past, in keeping with DNA mutation charges. Until now the oldest fossil of an anatomically fashionable hen used to be one referred to as Vegavis that lived 66.five million years in the past in Antarctica, regardless that there’s a debate about its placement at the hen circle of relatives tree.

At first look, the fossil appeared unimpressively like a couple of damaged limb bones poking out of a small rock.

“When we CT scanned the rocks to get a greater take a look at the limb bones we had been stunned to find an improbable, just about whole cranium peering out at us from the display screen,” mentioned University of Cambridge paleontologist Daniel Field, lead writer of the analysis printed within the magazine Nature.

“This cranium is among the absolute best preserved fossil hen skulls of any age, so the truth that it’s from such a very powerful level in Earth historical past is fantastic,” Field added.

Field coined the “Wonderchicken” nickname, owing to its chicken-like beak and its medical significance. Its medical title Asteriornis honors Asteria, an historical Greek goddess of falling stars, a nod to the upcoming asteroid.

Asteriornis supplies clues as to which elements can have helped some birds live to tell the tale the asteroid have an effect on whilst others perished, mentioned paleontologist and learn about co-author Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Its fairly small dimension – a foot-long (30-cm-long) frame – – can have helped it live to tell the tale as the worldwide environmental calamity led to via the asteroid strike made it exhausting for greater animals to search out sufficient to consume, Ksepka mentioned.

Its adaptation to a coastline setting, Ksepka added, supposed it might were spared from the wildfires believed to have destroyed many of the global’s forests after the asteroid have an effect on can have incinerated tree-dwelling birds.

Reporting via Will Dunham; Editing via Sandra Maler

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