Fossil ‘wonderchicken’ may very well be earliest recognized fowl

Reconstruction of the birdImage copyright Phillip Krzeminski
Image caption The chicken might have lived on the shoreline

A newly found fossil chicken may very well be the earliest recognized ancestor of each hen on the planet.

Living simply earlier than the asteroid strike that worn out large dinosaurs, the distinctive fossil, from about 67 million years in the past, provides a glimpse into the daybreak of contemporary birds.

Birds are descended from dinosaurs, however exactly after they advanced into birds like those alive at the moment has been troublesome to reply.

This is because of an absence of fossil information.

The newly found – and well-preserved – fossil cranium ought to assist fill in a number of the gaps.

“This is a unique specimen: we’ve been calling it the ‘wonderchicken’,” mentioned Dr Daniel Field of the University of Cambridge.

“It’s the only nearly complete skull of a modern bird that we have, so far, from the age of dinosaurs and it’s able to tell us quite a lot about the early evolutionary history of birds.”

Image copyright Daniel J Field
Image caption Scan of the chicken’s cranium

The fossil chicken has been named Asteriornis maastrichtensis, after Asteria, a Greek goddess of falling stars who turns right into a quail, and the city of Maastricht in Belgium, the place it was discovered.

The chicken weighed in at just below 400g and was an early member of the group that gave rise to modern-day chickens, geese and different poultry.

At the time, components of Belgium had been lined by a shallow sea, and situations had been much like fashionable tropical seashores. With its lengthy, slender legs, the chicken might have been a shore dweller.

“Birds are such a conspicuous and important group of living animals, being able to say something new about how modern birds actually arose is really a significant thing for palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists,” mentioned Dr Field.

“The wonderchicken is going to rank as a truly important fossil for helping clarify the factors that actually gave rise to modern birds.”

The analysis is revealed within the journal Nature.

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