Substantive fossil research work leading to the discovery began at the University of Texas at Austin.
By Tony Cantu (Patch Staff) - August 14, 2016 6:59 pm ET
AUSTIN, TX -- Ostriches in other parts of the world looking to chart their family trees can now date their relatives to North America from millions of years ago, as fossil evidence discovered in part by University of Texas at Austin researchers has found.
Exceedingly well-preserved bird fossil specimens dating back 50 million years represent a species of a previously unknown relative of the modern-dayostrich, according to new research from Virginia Tech and The University of Texas at Austin published in the July issue of the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, university officials said.
Like the ostrich itself, this is big. The find could help us determine, with growing specificity, the variety of avian life in North American from eons ago.
“This spectacular specimen could be a ‘keystone’ that helps interpret much of the sparse fossil (record) of birds that once lived in North America millions of years ago,” said lead author Sterling Nesbitt of Virginia Tech’s Department of Geosciences and the Global Change Center, in a prepared statement.
While the significance of the find is just now coming to light, the bird fossils actually were found more than a decade ago -- "...completely intact with bones, feathers and soft tissues in a former lake bed in Wyoming," researchers noted. This new species was named Calciavis grandei – with “calci” meaning “hard/stone,” “avis” from the Latin for bird, and “grandei” in honor of famed paleontologist Lance Grande.
Adjectives to describe the momentous discovery's impact are soaring (unlike the hapless ostrich) to new heights -- with Nesbitt categorizing the fossils as a "once-in-a-lifetime" discovery for paleontologists.
“This is among one of the earliest well represented bird species after the age of large dinosaurs,” he said.
Formerly a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Nesbitt was hardly burying his head in the sand while studying here. Nay, this is when Nesbitt began studying the fossil in 2009, university officials said. He studied in Austin under the direction of Professor Julia Clarke -- a co-author on the research -- in the Department of Geological Sciences, officials added.