Image of the Day: Wonderchicken

A newly discovered fossilized skull is between 66.8 million and 66.7 million years old and bears similarities to modern-day chickens and ducks.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Mar 20, 2020
Cranial and mandibular anatomy of the nearly complete skull of Asteriornis maastrichtensis: Premaxillae (red), maxillae (green), nasals (yellow), frontals and laterosphenoid (pink), basisphenoid (dark blue), mesethmoid (brown), left quadrate (red), left jugal (orange), right palatine (brown), and mandibles (blue)
Daniel J. Field, University of Cambridge

Afossilized skull found in the Maastricht Formation of Belgium and dated to between 66.8 million and 66.7 million years ago may represent the oldest modern bird to date, report the authors of a study published on March 18 in Nature. The newly identified Asteriornis maastrichtensis, affectionately called Wonderchicken by the authors, suggests that modern birds emerged before the end-Cretaceous mass extinction roughly 66 million years ago.

Asteriornis is estimated to have weighed less than 400 grams, according to a press release, and its small size, along with the fact that the fossil was found in marine sediments, indicate that it may have been a shore-dwelling bird resembling a mash-up between a chicken and a duck.

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