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Re: Jeholornis - long-tailed bird in today's Nature

Here'a a news report from Nature:

Early bird ate seeds
Gut contents of new-found fossil reveal ancient tastes.
25 July 2002

A new bird has joined the fossil flock. The size of a large crow, the beast lived sometime between 140 and 125 million years ago. It has a gut full of seeds - the first direct evidence of seed eating in a bird1.

Researchers Zhonghe Zhou and Fucheng Zhang of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China, call their fossil Jeholornis prima. They found it in the Jiufotang Formation of north-eastern China, an area that has yielded many fossils of primitive birds as well as feathered dinosaurs.

The bird had large, strong wings. It also had a long, bony tail, like many dinosaurs, and like Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, and Rahonavis, a primitive bird from Madagascar.

Zhou and Zhang have gone to some pains to ensure that the tail of Jeholornis really does belong to its body. Two years ago a notorious long-tailed bird fossil, Archaeoraptor, was found to be a composite of a bird-like body and the tail of a dinosaur subsequently described as Microraptor.

Dinosaur days

The heyday of the dinosaurs was a golden age for bird evolution. Archaeopteryx, first reported in 1861, lived 150 million years ago in what is now southern Germany. More than a century later, this iconic fossil is still known from only a handful of specimens.

Clothed in feathers and with fully developed wings, Archaeopteryx had many primitive, reptilian features, including teeth and claws on its wing fingers. These traits made it the perfect 'transitional' fossil for the darwinian age.

Jeholornis prima is the latest in a host of ancient birds found recently from places as far afield as Spain, Madagascar and China that illuminate the earliest stages of bird evolution. They come from an interval somewhat later than that of Archaeopteryx but show that the major features of modern bird form were sketched out in this period.

Zhou, Z. & Zhang, F. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature, 418, 405 - 409, (2002).

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002

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