Two very detailed fossils are offering researchers the possibility to discover a new bird, one that lived more than 130 million years ago and is considered the oldest known case of the group which contains modern birds.
The new bird has been called Archaeornithura meemannae. It had almost the entirety of its body covered with feathers, including its head, shoulders, neck and wings, while the bird’s feet and legs are bare. The bare legs point to the fact that Archaeornithura, or some of its ancestors, originate from a semi-aquatic environment. The finding was published in Nature Communications.
“The new fossil bird Archaeornithura is an important find,” Matthew Lamanna, an assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History who was not involved in the study. If it’s been dated correctly, Lamanna explained, Archaeornithura sets a new record for the fossil of birds’ most ancient ancestors by more than 5 million years.
The group who conducted the study, which was led by a scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, found the two fossils in the famous Sichakou basin in Hebei, a small province in northeast China. The region is the second-oldest formation in the world that has been found to contain bird fossils, but only quite a limited number of distinct samples of fossils have been found there.
Discoveries like Archaeornithura can aid researchers to understand the transition between dinosaurs, which are the primitive ancestors of birds, and the birds that are living today. Some “extraordinary” fossils have already made parts of this transition between dinosaurs and the first ancestors of birds “fairly well understood,but the transition from these primitive birds to the species we see flying around us today is much less known,” Lamanna said.
Being the oldest known component of the modern bird group, Archaeornithura is of crucial importance to researchers who want to understand the whole picture of evolution. “It gives us crucial new information on their origins and early evolution,” Lamanna explained in an interview with The Verge.
Archaeornithura is different by other ancient birds because it has the advanced features which are similar to some modern birds that are still having primitive traits. Min Wang, the study’s lead author, mentioned that Archaeornithura “has many morphological features of modern birds,” especially when you compare it to other birds from that period, more than 160 million years ago.
Image Source: Yibada