New record set for wingspan with discovery of bird fossil in Chile

Sep 16, 2010
New record set for wingspan with discovery of bird fossil in Chile

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.

New record set for wingspan with discovery of bird fossil in Chile

“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 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.

New record set for wingspan with discovery of bird fossil in Chile

New record set for wingspan with discovery of bird fossil in Chile

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 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.

Explore further: 110-million-year-old crustacean holds essential piece to evolutionary puzzle

More information: 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.

Provided by Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

4.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Terror bird' remains found in Argentina

Oct 26, 2006

A fossil found in Argentina of a large carnivorous bird capable of eating dog-sized mammals challenges traditional thoughts on how birds evolved.

Continent's oldest bird tracks are found

Nov 23, 2005

University of Colorado scientists say they have found fossilized bird tracks in the Cedar Mountains near Moab, Utah, that are 125 million years old.

Inside the First Bird, Surprising Signs of a Dinosaur

Oct 08, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The raptor-like Archaeopteryx has long been viewed as the archetypal first bird, but new research reveals that it was actually a lot less “bird-like” than scientists had believed.

Earliest toothless bird found

Dec 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new species of bird from the Cretaceous period in China has been identified. It had toothless upper and lower jaws, and provides significant information on the diversification in the evolution ...

Recommended for you

Fish eye sheds light on color vision

Dec 23, 2014

A fish eye from a primitive time when Earth was but one single continent, has yielded evidence of color vision dating back at least 300 million years, researchers said Tuesday.

Study sheds new light on the diet of extinct animals

Dec 22, 2014

A study of tooth enamel in mammals living today in the equatorial forest of Gabon could ultimately shed light on the diet of long extinct animals, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.