Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record


  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Photo by S. Tränkner, Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg.

    Preserved bones of Pelagornis chilensis laid out in life position as if viewed from above while flying.

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Photo by S. Tränkner, Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg.

    Skull of Pelagornis chilensis as viewed from the left side (with tip of the beak to the left).

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Artwork by Carlos Anzures.

    Artist’s perception of Pelagornis chilensis in life

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Artwork by Carlos Anzures.

    Skeletal and artistic reconstruction of Pelagornis chilensis in flight

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Artwork by Carlos Anzures.

    Skeletal and silhouette reconstruction of Pelagornis chilensis in flight as viewed from the left side

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Artwork by Carlos Anzures.

    Skeletal and silhouette reconstruction of Pelagornis chilensis in flight as viewed from above

  • newswise-fullscreen Fossil of Giant Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets Wingspan Record

    Credit: Artwork by Carlos Anzures.

    Skeletal and silhouette reconstruction of standing Pelagornis chilensis as viewed from the left side

Newswise — A newly discovered skeleton of an ancient seabird from northern Chile provides evidence that giant birds were soaring the skies there 5-10 million years ago. The wing bones of the animal exceed those of all other birds in length; its wingspan would have been at least 5.2 m (17 ft.). This is the largest safely established wingspan for a bird. Other, larger estimates for fossil birds have been based on much less secure evidence.

The new bird belongs to a group known as pelagornithids, informally referred to as bony-toothed birds. They are characterized by their long, slender beaks that bear many spiny, tooth-like projections. Such 'teeth' likely would have been used to capture slippery prey in the open ocean, such as fish and squid.

“Bird watching in Chile would be thrilling if birds with more than five meter wingspans and huge pseudoteeth were still alive,” said Dr. Gerald Mayr of the Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg in Germany, lead author on the study

Fossils of bony-toothed birds are found on all continents, but such remains are usually fragmentary. This is because most birds have fragile bones that often do not survive the fossilization process. Only a single partial skeleton of a bony-toothed bird was known prior to discovery of the new Chilean specimen, and it is badly crushed. The new specimen, which is 70% complete and uncrushed, provides important new information about the size and anatomy of these strange birds. It is the largest bony-toothed bird discovered so far. It also represents a new species named after its country of origin: Pelagornis chilensis.

“Although these animals would have looked like creatures from Jurassic Park, they are true birds, and their last representatives may have coexisted with the earliest humans in North Africa,” said Mayr.

A life-size reconstruction of the skeleton will be on exhibition in the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Knowledge of the maximum size that can be reached by a flying bird is important for understanding the physics behind how birds fly. This new fossil may therefore help scientists better appreciate physical and anatomical constraints in very large birds.

“This specimen greatly improves our knowledge of the appearance of one of the most spectacular and fascinating animals that crossed the skies,” said the study’s co-author, Dr. David Rubilar of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Chile.

ABOUT THE SOCIETY OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGYFounded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,400 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators and others interested in vertebrate paleontology. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.

The Journal of Vertebrate PaleontologyThe Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.

For complimentary access to the full article beginning September 16, visit:http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/02724634.asp

The article appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(5) published by Taylor and Francis.

Citation: Mayr, Gerald and David Rubilar. 2010. Osteology of a new giant bony-toothed bird from the Miocene of Chile, with a revision of the taxonomy of Neogene Pelagornithidae. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Volume 30, No. 5. [Featured Article]

Journal Web site: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: http://www.vertpaleo.org

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