Ancient bird’s foot is so distinctive palaeontologists declare it a new species
Thu 11 Jul 2019 16.00 BSTLast modified on Mon 15 Jul 2019 11.58 BST
The fossilised remains of a bizarre, ancient bird that had middle toes longer than its lower legs have been found in a lump of amber from Myanmar.
The elongated toe resembles those seen on lemurs and tree-climbing lizards, and suggests an unusual lifestyle for some of the earliest birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs, researchers said.
“We have the leg of a little 99-million-year-old bird, preserved in amber, that shows a foot morphology unlike any known previously,” said Jingmai O’Connor, a vertebrate palaeontologist and co-author of the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The foot was so distinctive that O’Connor and her team declared the bird, which was probably about the size of a sparrow, a new species, naming it Elektorornis chenguangi. The first part of the name translates to “amber bird”. It is the first bird species to be recognised from amber.
The bird’s foot had four toes, with the third measuring 20% longer than the bird’s lower leg bone, and 41% longer than its second toe.
Scientists compared the bird to the only other known species that has such disproportionately long digits: the aye-aye, a type of lemur which uses its elongated fingers to pry larvae and insects out of tree trunks. The researchers believe that Elektorornis might have used its toes for similar purposes.