Dinosaur age bird discovered in amber

This 13 July 2019 Thai language video says about itself (translated):

Meet the new species Elektorornis chenguangi.

On July 11, 2019, a team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Announced the discovery of a new bird species. After they found its feet buried in ancient amber in Burma.

This bird is considered the oldest evidence of ancient birds which has been discovered in amber. Therefore, the research team took the opportunity to name this new bird species “Elektorornis chenguangi” (Elektorornis means “amber bird”).

According to the research team, the feet of the bird found belonged to a bird of the same size as a sparrow. It Has a distinctive feature: a toe, which is one quarter of its length, 41% longer than other toes.

The strange part of the foot that was in this amber was first discovered in 2014. Many researchers therefore mistakenly believed that it was the foot of an animal in the chameleon family.

When comparing the Elektorornis chenguangi with more than 62 species of birds of the same age, the research team found that this is the only bird species that has feet like this. Which reflects very well that they should be quite unique.

It is possible that in the past this bird was more likely to live on a tree than on the ground or in the water like other birds. So it evolved some toe length which not only helped it stick to trees more easily, like some lizards; but which can also be used for hunting prey Like catching the larvae of insects that live in the tree.

This unique bird’s foot also led scientists to note that Elektorornis chenguangi may have had teeth, claws on its wings (like dinosaurs), or other features of many ancient birds that are older than this.

So, now the research team hopes that in the future they will have the opportunity to examine the proteins and pigments in the feathers of the carcass in amber. So that they will be able to understand its way of life and adaptations.

Another, 11 July 2019, video used to say about itself:

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 illustrates the unusual lifestyle of some of the earliest birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs, researchers said.

From ScienceDaily:

Bird with unusually long toes found fossilized in amber

July 11, 2019

Meet the ancient bird that had toes longer than its lower legs. Researchers have discovered a bird foot from 99 million years ago preserved in amber that had a hyper-elongated third toe. The study, published in the journal Current Biology on July 11, suggests that this bird might have used its toes to hook food out of tree trunks. This is the first time such a foot structure has been observed in birds, either extinct or living.

“I was very surprised when I saw the amber”, says first author Lida Xing at China University of Geosciences (Beijing). “It shows that ancient birds were way more diverse than we thought. They had evolved many different features to adapt to their environments.”

To study the Cretaceous period fossil, Xing and his colleagues scanned the amber with micro-CT and created a 3D reconstruction of the foot. They found that the bird’s third toe, measuring 9.8 millimeters, is 41 percent longer than its second toe and 20 percent longer than its tarsometatarsus, which is a bone in the lower legs of birds. The team compared the ratios with those of 20 other extinct birds from the same era and 62 living birds. No bird has a foot that resembles this one.

The researchers named it Elektorornis chenguangi. Elektorornis means “amber bird”, and it belongs to a group of extinct birds called Enantiornithes, the most abundant type of bird known from the Mesozoic era. It is thought that Enantiornithines became extinct during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event about 66 million years ago, along with dinosaurs. They have no living descendants.

Based on the fossil, the team estimates that the Elektorornis was smaller than a sparrow, and it was arboreal, meaning it spent most of its time in trees as opposed to on the ground or in water.

“Elongated toes are something you commonly see in arboreal animals because they need to be able to grip these branches and wrap their toes around them,” says co-author Jingmai O’Connor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “But this extreme difference in toe lengths, as far as we know, has never been seen before.”

The amber the foot was found in, measuring 3.5 centimeters long and weighing 5.5 grams, was discovered around 2014 in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar. During the Mesozoic era, the valley was full of trees that produced resin, a gooey substance that oozes out of the tree bark. Plants and small animals, such as geckos and spiders, often get trapped in the resin and become fossilized with the amber after millions of years. Scientists have discovered many extinct animals, including the oldest known bee and a feathered dinosaur tail, in amber from this valley.

Xing obtained the amber from a local amber trader, who didn’t know what animal this weird foot belonged to.

“Some traders thought it’s a lizard foot, because lizards tend to have long toes,” Xing says. “Although I’ve never seen a bird claw that looks like this before, I know it’s a bird. Like most birds, this foot has four toes, while lizards have five.”

It remains unknown why the amber bird evolved such an unusual feature. The only known animal with disproportionally long digits is the aye-aye. The aye-aye is a lemur that uses its long middle fingers to fish larvae and insects out of tree trunks for food. Therefore, the researchers suggest Elektorornis might have used its toe for the same purpose.

“This is the best guess we have,” O’Connor says. “There is no bird with a similar morphology that could be considered a modern analog for this fossil bird. A lot of ancient birds were probably doing completely different things than living birds. This fossil exposes a different ecological niche that these early birds were experimenting as they evolved.”

Moving forward, the team hopes to extract the proteins and pigments from some feathers exposed on the surface of the amber. Xing says such data could help them better understand the bird’s adaptation to the environment, such as whether it had camouflage plumage.

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