By Mike Wehner
March 20th, 2020 at 12:21 AM
Oldest-ever modern bird fossil found in Europe has been nicknamed the “Wonderchicken” due to its similarities between present-day chickens and ducks.
It’s believed that the species roamed the region as far back as one million years before the asteroid strike that triggered the death of most dinosaur species.
The fossil is helping scientists paint a clearer picture of the evolution of birds as we know them today.
An ancient bird species has just been identified by a group of scientists led by the University of Cambridge. It’s thought to be the oldest example of a modern bird ever discovered, and it’s older than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs by a full million years.
The discovery, which was published in the journal Nature, is helping scientists to better understand when the first examples of modern birds emerged. It’s also aiding in explaining why birds managed to persist even after the catastrophic dinosaur-killing asteroid came crashing down.
The fossilized skull of the so-called “Wonderchicken” is remarkably well-preserved, giving the researchers a wealth of information about how the ancient species compares to modern-day birds. Its various features mimic those of modern species of chickens and ducks. This, the scientists believe, hints that the Wonderchicken is the last common ancestors of both bird groups.
“The moment I first saw what was beneath the rock was the most exciting moment of my scientific career,” Dr. Daniel Field, who led the research, said in a statement. “This is one of the best-preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, from anywhere in the world. We almost had to pinch ourselves when we saw it, knowing that it was from such an important time in Earth’s history.”
The fossil was found “in a limestone quarry near the Belgian-Dutch border,” according to a press release. It’s unique for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s the oldest example of a modern bird on record as well as the first fossil of a modern bird from its time period found in the northern hemisphere.