Saturday, 04 April, 2020

"Wonderchicken" fossil helps decode origin of birds

Wonderchicken 'Wonderchicken' fossil could help reveal how modern birds evolved
Sandy Nunez | 21 March, 2020, 00:46

Now the oldest known member of the contemporary branch of the avian family tree, Wonderchicken (formally Asteriornis maastrichtensis) could help today's paleontologists better understand how birds weathered the extinction that purged three-quarters of all plant and animal species from the surface of the Earth.

According to the scientists, when they put the fragments of rocks in a CT scanner and saw the scan, their shouts into the room came a technician, thinking that colleagues broke the machine.

As per the details of the study, the skull combines many features common to modern chicken and duck-like birds, which suggests that the "wonderchicken" could be the last common ancestor of modern chickens and ducks.

With high-resolution X-ray CT [computed tomography] scans, the researchers were stunned to find a almost complete bird skull only 1 millimeter beneath the rock's surface. Their efforts revealed a stunning discovery: the nearly-complete skull of a 66.7-million-year-old bird. According to the reports, the bird is expected to be from the middle of the ice age and is believed to be an ancestor of the modern horned lark.

'The moment I first saw what was beneath the rock was the most exciting moment of my scientific career, ' said paper author and palaeo biologist Daniel Field of the University of Cambridge. Though more fossils may someday change the story, the new findings hint that birds may have acquired some important traits in just the nick of time-just hundreds of thousands of years before that fateful space rock smashed into Earth.

The fossilized skull of the so-called "Wonderchicken" is remarkably well-preserved, giving the researchers a wealth of information about how the ancient species compares to modern-day birds.

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"Without these cutting-edge scans, we never would have known that we were holding the oldest modern bird skull in the world". Thus, the upper and back part of the skull of asterions structurally resemble those of modern ducks, while the front part and the beak is similar to those seen in chickens and turkeys.

The fossil bird has actually been called Asteriornis maastrichtensis, after Asteria, a Greek siren of dropping celebrities that becomes a quail.

"This is a unique specimen: we've been calling it the "wonderchicken", claimed Dr Daniel Field of the University of Cambridge.

The fact that Asteriornis was found in Europe adds to its significance. "The discovery of Asteriornis provides some of the first evidence that Europe was a key area in the early evolutionary history of modern birds".

"This fossil tells us that early on, at least some modern birds were fairly small-bodied, ground-dwelling birds that lived near the seashore", added Field.

Scientists have identified the oldest fossil ever found of a modern bird.