Menu

Oldest Ancestor of Modern Birds Found

Fossils of a new species discovered in China suggest birds developed 6 million years earlier than previously thought.

May 6, 2015
Jenny Rood

NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, WANG ET AL.Two 130.7-million-year-old partial skeletons of Archaeornithura meemannae, a newly discovered species of ancient six-inch-tall wading bird found in siltstone slabs in northeastern China, represent the oldest known ancestor of modern birds, predating the previous record-holder by almost 6 million years, according to a study published this week (May 5) in Nature Communications.

After birds began to evolve separately from dinosaurs at the end of the Jurassic period (around 150 million years ago), two groups of species developed. The Enantiorinthes, which had teeth and clawed wings and did not fly well, went extinct 66 million years ago, while the Ornithuromorpha evolved into modern birds. Previously, the oldest known ornithuromorph fossil was dated to 125 million years ago.

In the new study, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Tianyu Natural History Museum of Shandong, China, and Macquarie University in Australia identified the fossils in the stone slabs from the Sichakou basin of the Hebei province as belonging to an older species with features present in modern birds. The birds were most likely good fliers, with such features as overlapping wing feathers that would help to create lift, a tuft of feathers on the front edge of the wings, present in modern kestrels, which increases maneuverability during flight, and similar bone structure to modern birds. The rest of the birds’ bodies were also covered in feathers, including a head crest and a fan-shaped tail, but the legs were bare, suggesting that A. meemannae was most likely a wading shorebird.

“The feathers are really beautiful. It is incredible how they were preserved so well for 130 million years,” study coauthor Min Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told The Guardian.

However, since later specimens are in some ways less similar to modern birds than the new species, there is most likely an even older ancestor yet to be discovered. “The most primitive bird of Ornithuromorpha is most likely from older deposits than what we discovered now,” Wang told The Washington Post.

February 2019

Big Storms Brewing

Can forests weather more major hurricanes?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced that its QXDx AutoDG ddPCR System, which uses Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR technology, and the QXDx BCR-ABL %IS Kit are the industry’s first digital PCR products to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Used together, Bio-Rad’s system and kit can precisely and reproducibly monitor molecular response to treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today showcases new automation features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer during the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening 2019 International Conference and Exhibition (SLAS) in Washington, D.C., February 2–6. These capabilities enable the ZE5 to be used for high-throughput flow cytometry in biomarker discovery and phenotypic screening.
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Researchers to benefit from an innovative software-connected pipetting system, bringing improved reproducibility and traceability of experiments to life-science laboratories.
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) will showcase advanced 3D cell culture technologies and workflow solutions for spheroids, organoids, tissue models, and applications including ADME/toxicology at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference, Feb. 2-6 in Washington, D.C.