Scientists Discover Oldest Relatives of Birds

Scientists Discover Oldest Relatives of Birds

Nature Communications

Scientists have discovered two fossils of what are the oldest known relatives of modern day birds. The finding took place in China.

Two fossils of age old extinct relatives of present day birds have reshuffled our knowledge of the species known as Aves. Although there are older species whose fossils have been unearthed in China, they don’t resemble today’s birds. But these two which have been unearthed recently are the oldest that go back to prehistoric times and yet have an uncanny resemblance to today’s fine feathered species. 

They are diminutive indeed, about 10 cm in length. The tail feathers are fin-shaped, a feature that is known to help manipulate flight. And the really odd thing is that these ancient birds have feathers on them. They exhibit full plumage. As for the particular species they are called Ornithuromorpha, and they are the prototype of all the birds that are extant in current times. 

The evidence revealed by the discovery of the fossils caused the knowledge of bird species to recede into the past by some 6 million years. They are thus really old. The birds were alive some 130.7 million years ago.

The beginnings of birds on earth was with the dinosaurs of course. Thus birds are the closest things to being the remnants of dinosaurs on earth today. However, not all dinosaurs survived till the point where they evolved into birds. 

One species called Enantiornithes died out some 66 million years back. Thus these were dinosaurs that failed to morph into birds. The fossils found show greater affinity for the modern day birds than any other dinosaur species discovered from the subterranean depths. Yet hopes run high among scientists that an even older species than these two will ultimately be found and that they will be the missing link between dinosaurs and birds.  

The dino-bird fossils show that these curious creatures traveled through the air with ease. Thus they were adept at flight and knew how to handle the windage. Everyone knows that the prehistoric past is one when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

These included the likes of Tyranosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus as well as Triceratops. But many people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that these gentle and terrible giants were actually just over-sized birds (in a manner of speaking). That is a truth that is hard to digest indeed. Yet it stands out as a truth that is stranger than fiction. 

This study has been published in a Nature Communications paper on Tuesday.

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