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Under Embargo Till: 00:00:01 UTC March 25, 2010
Posted: 00:00:01 UTC 03/25/2010

New Bird Fossil Hints at More Undiscovered Chinese Treasures

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hi-Res Version
Photograph of part of the holotype specimen of Longicrusavis houi (slab B, PKUP V1069). Although the skeleton is mostly complete (the wings and legs are clearly visible), the head has been detached from the neck and is located between the legs. The beak is pointing toward the left.

Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz
 
Hi-Res Version
Life reconstruction of Longicrusavis houi in what was probably its favored habitat, shallow lake waters. A reconstruction of the fossil specimen itself is reflected in the water.

Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz, Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The study of Mesozoic birds and the dinosaur-bird transition is one of the most exciting and vigorous fields in vertebrate paleontology today. A newly described bird from the Jehol Biota of northeast China suggests that scientists have only tapped a small proportion of the birds and dinosaurs that were living at that time, and that the rocks still have many secrets to reveal.

The study of Mesozoic birds is currently one of the most exciting fields; new discoveries continue to drastically change how we view them,” said Jingmai O’Connor, lead author of the study. The article appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The new bird, named “Longicrusavis houi,” belongs to a group of birds known as ornithuromorphs (Ornithuromorpha), which are rare in rocks of this age. Ornithuromorphs are more closely related to modern birds than are most of the other birds from the Jehol Biota.

Longicrusavis adds to the magnificent diversity of ancient birds, many of them sporting teeth, wing claws, and long bony tails, that recently have been unearthed from northeastern China,” said Luis Chiappe, a co-author of the study.

Along with a bird described five years ago, Longicrusavis provides evidence for a new, specialized group of small birds that diversified during the Early Cretaceous between about 130 and 120 million years ago.

The new discovery adds information not only on the diversity these birds, but also on the possible lakeshore environment in which this bird lived," said co-author Gao Ke-Qin.

The legs of this new species are unusually long, suggesting that it spent much of its time wading in the shallows of ancient lakes. The name “Longicrusavis” means “long-shin bird,” highlighting this important aspect of the new specimen. The presence of ancient birds in this habitat suggests that modern birds might have originated from an ancestor that was adapted for life near rivers and lakes.

Previously undescribed feather impressions from a closely related species suggest that both it and Longicrusavis had a long, fan-shaped tail. These are the oldest species to have such a tail, which likely increased flying performance.

The rocks of the Yixian Formation of northeast China have produced a spectacular array of fossils in recent years including fishes, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and dinosaurs. These fossils are collectively are known as the Jehol Biota and they are remarkable because, in many instances, they preserve soft tissues such as feathers or hair in addition to teeth and bones.

The Jehol Biota never fails to stop giving, and the research to be done on these fossils is virtually endless!” said O’Connor.

About the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,300 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators, and others interested in VP. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.

Source: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

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