Fossil of New Bird Species from Early Cretaceous Discovered in China

Posted on March 2, 2016

Chongmingia zhengi

Researchers have discovered the fossil of a new basal bird in China. The fossil from the Early Cretaceous was found in northeastern China. The researchers say it sheds light on the early evolution of birds.

The newly identified species has been named Chongmingia zhengi. The scientists say it is basal to the dominant Mesozoic avian clades Enantiornithes and Ornithuromorph. It also represents a new basal avialan lineage. The scientists found a single specimen, a partial skeleton with associated soft tissues and gastroliths. The skull and most of the caudal vertebrate was missing.

It is unclear whether or not the bird could fly. The scientists say the ancient bird's forcula (wishbone) was very rigid which would require the bird to obtain more power for flight. However, they say its elongated forelimb and large deltopectoral crest on the humerus might indicate that the power for flight was available. The researchers also say histological studies indicate it had a moderately elevated growth rate relative to the long-tailed Archaeopteryx and Jeholornis.

Dr. Wang Min, lead author of the study from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says in a statement, "Although our analysis suggests that the new specimen may represent the most phylogenetically basal Cretaceous bird known to date, this phylogenetic hypothesis should be treated with caution given the incomplete preservation of the skeleton and low phylogenetic support values."

A research paper on the ancient basal bird was published here in the journal Scientific Reports. The researchers also provided a diagram here showing where the newly discovered bird ancestor fits in with other early birds.

Chongmingia zhengi fossil

Photos: Image by WANG Min

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