Chinese scientists have discovered in the Sichakou basin in Hebei two fossils which are believed to have more than 130 million years. The fossils are very detailed and they present intact plumage. The newly discovered species is considered to be the oldest member of ancestor family of birds known as clade family (Ornithuromorpha). More detail about the bird named Archaeornithura meemannae can be found in the journal Nature Communications.
This family of birds lived around five million years ago and it enabled evolution and variation in the bird species. The fossil has nearly its whole body covered with feathers, including the head, neck, shoulders and wings. The legs and the feet of the bird are bare. This indicates that Archaeornithura meemannae or probably some of its ancestors have their origins in a semi-aquatic environment.
It is believed that the birds are the descendants of dinosaurs and this makes them the last living remnants of the dinosaurs. However not all dinosaurs were able to spawn bird lineages which survived. Some species were already extinct 66 million years ago.
According to the lead author of the study, Min Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Archaeornithura meemannae has more features in common with a modern bird rather than any bird found in an early stage of evolution. Moreover it resembles birds more than other later members of the Ornithuromorpha family. This could mean that these birds have an even older ancestor which was not yet discovered. If there was a common Ornithurae ancestor which lived a few million years back this means that there would have been enough time for numerous branches of lineage to develop, some of which acquiring modern qualities faster than the others.
This discovery can help researchers understand the evolution of dinosaurs into the birds of today. Matthew Lamanna of at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was not involved in the study, but appreciated the importance of the discovery saying that it helps understanding the transition from primitive birds to modern birds, which is something researchers no not have much information about.
According to Wang imagination is going to play an important role in the reconstruction of this bird, but based on the detailed fossils the researchers suspect that Archaeornithura meemannae was an expert flyer. The place of discovery and the anatomy of its feet and legs indicate that it was a shore bird which waded into the water in order to feed.
Image Source: The Guardian