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Rare and Tiny Bird Fossil Studied via New Technology

Scientists have announced research into of one of the smallest bird fossils ever found. The tiny chick lived 127 million years ago, which is hard to imagine, and was a member of group of primitive avian species that inhabited the planet when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Rare Fossil Find

The fossil has been studied by a research team lead by Fabien Knoll of ARAID-Dinopolis and the University of Manchester. Fossils of this age are extremely rare finds and fossils of babies are even rarer. The latest discovery sheds light on the lives of long-extinct species and this particular specimen belonged to the enantiornithine family, most of which had teeth and clawed fingers on each wing. They otherwise looked much like the birds we see today.

It is incredible to think that many of the features we recognise in birds today had already developed over 100 million years ago.

Miniscule Bird

From its nose to its tail, the tiny hatchling was shorter than the little finger of a human hand. The bird would have weighed just 10 grams. It must have died very soon after leaving the egg and so the fossil gives scientists valuable insight into a critical stage in the creature’s development. Researchers from the UK, Spain, Sweden and the US used the very latest technology to study its fossilised bones.

The analysis involved using a synchrotron. This is a particle accelerator that utilises extremely intense light to study minute matter. The equipment revealed that the chick in question probably could not fly at such a young age. The cartilage in its sternum (the breast bone in the centre of the chest) had yet to turn completely to bone.

Bird Fossil Discovered in Spain

The analysis of the bird will be used to research many evolutionary characteristics. New technology is giving palaeontologists a greater capability to fully investigate fossils. The tiny bird fossil had been found many years ago in Las Hoyas, Spain but had remained unstudied until now. The required technology simply wasn’t available at the time the fossil was uncovered but now scientists are able to explore it in detail.

Discovering More About Avian Development

The process of studying bone development helps scientists to learn about the life of young birds. They believe that the specimen may have been much like a chicken in that it would have had feathers and the ability to move around from birth. Alternatively, it could have developed in a similar way to a love bird which hatches with no feathers and its eyes shut and so requires greater parental care. It is emerging that enantiornithines were very diverse in their behaviour and development.

Have you ever found a fossil or an interesting specimen that you would have liked to research? Birds are such fascinating creatures and were amongst the first animals to evolve on Earth. We clearly still have much to learn about the evolution of birds and new discoveries could help us to understand how birds will evolve in the future.


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