March 5, 2018, University of Manchester
The tiny fossil of a prehistoric baby bird is helping scientists understand how early avians came into the world in the Age of Dinosaurs.
The fossil, which dates back to the Mesozoic Era (250-65 million years ago), is a chick from a group of prehistoric birds called, Enantiornithes. Made up of a nearly complete skeleton, the specimen is amongst the smallest known Mesozoic avian fossils ever discovered.
It measures less than five centimetres - smaller than the little finger on an average human hand - and would have weighed just three ounces when it was alive.What makes this fossil so important and unique is the fact it died not long after its birth. This is a critical stage in a bird's skeletal formation. That means this bird's extremely short life has given researchers a rare chance to analyse the species' bone structure and development.
Studying and analysing ossification - the process of bone development - can explain a lot about a young bird's life the researchers say. It can help them understand everything from whether it could fly or if it needed to stay with its parents after hatching or could survive on its own.