Image of the Day: Ancient Horned Lark

A complete bird specimen uncovered in northeastern Siberia is radiocarbon dated to be roughly 44,000–49,000 years old.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Mar 6, 2020
The exceptionally well-preserved female horned lark carcass was discovered in a mining tunnel in the Belaya Gora region of Siberia.
N. DUSSEX ET AL., COMMUNICATIONS BIOLOGY, 2020

An ancient bird preserved in a Siberian permafrost deposit has a partial mitochondrial gene that 100 percent matches that of the present-day horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), according to a study published on February 21 in Communications Biology. The bird was genetically identified as a female and radiocarbon dated to approximately 44,000–49,000 years old.

“Not only can we identify the bird as a horned lark,” says coauthor and zoologist Nicolas Dussex of Stockholm University in a press release. “The genetic analysis also suggests that the bird belonged to a population that was a joint ancestor of two subspecies of horned lark living today, one in Siberia, and one in the steppe in Mongolia. This helps us understand how the diversity of subspecies evolves.”

N. Dussex et al., “Biomolecular analyses reveal the age, sex and species identity of a near-intact Pleistocene bird carcass,” Communications Biologydoi:10.1038/s42003-020-0806-7, 2020.

Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at aschleunes@the-scientist.com.