New fossil discovered could be world’s oldest bird
The title of the oldest bird ever to have walked on the Earth could go to a new contender. The Archaeopteryx (pictured) was initially thought to be the earliest bird known to science, however, a new creature has come into the frame.
The small, feathered, “Dawn” bird, is the same size as a pheasant (it measured 50cm from its beak to the tip of its tail) and lived around 160m years ago, which is 10m years before the Archaeopteryx.
This new species, which has been named Aurornis xui by scientists, had claws and a long tail as well as front and hind legs, similar to those of Archaeopteryx. However, some features of its bones were far more primitive.
The fossil was encased in sedimentary rock and preserved traces of downy feathers along the creature’s tail, neck and chest, however, the absence of any larger feathers suggests that this animal wasn’t able to fly.
This new Aurornis could push the Archaeopteryx off its perch as the oldest member of the bird lineage.
The Archaeopteryx currently holds one of the most prized positions in evolutionary history. It’s fossil was first discovered in 1861 in Germany and it was the proof that modern birds had evolved from dinosaurs. It was also the first fossil to support Darwin’s theory of evolution, which had been published two years earlier.
Researchers named the new species Aurornis xui because it marks the earliest days of the evolutionary path that led to modern birds. Aurornis combines aurora, the Latin for dawn, and ornis, the Greek for bird. The second part of the name, xui, honours Xu Xing, a Chinese palaeontologist, according to a report in Nature.
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Picture: Denise Chan