Back when birds had teeth and clawed fingers, when neighbouring dinosaurs munched on the trees, there was an egg. This particular egg hatched into a species of baby bird that has not graced the skies for 66 million years. For nearly 200 million years, this family of feathered ancestors bred and flew among the great beasts of legend.
The fossil contains one of the rarest bird species known, and the fact it is a baby makes the specimen one of the smallest in the world. Perhaps their size made it easy for them to be scavenged or destroyed by some other means which makes finding their fossil skeletons extremely tricky today. Enantiornithines like this fossil are not identical to birds of the modern day but their lineage is direct which makes studying them useful in the quest for understanding how birds evolved.
Fabian Knoll of ARAID-Dinopolis and the University of Manchester has been leading a team of researchers in the process of examining the fossil. A multi-national team of specialists from the UK, USA, Sweden, and Spain have been using cutting edge technology to see details never before examined. Particle accelerators were used to finely scan the skeleton and this determined that the chick's sternum or breastbone was still made of cartilage, meaning it was unable to fly.
The chick is reported to be around the size of a little finger, and weighs ten grams. It appears to be fresh from the egg, with little post-hatching development. This snapshot of a newly hatched prehistoric bird gives evolutionary scientists further insight into how these creatures became so successful. Their strength as a species extended as far to which many of their features are still used in today's birds.
The debate is open as to whether this type of bird was born mobile like a chicken or blind and bare like a blackbird. With the type of conditions the creatures may have lived in, perhaps only a fast developing baby would have had the ability to flourish into adulthood and leave a legacy spanning millions of years.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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