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An Early Cretaceous Roadrunner?



Naturwissenschaften. 2007 Aug;94(8):657-65. Epub 2007
Mar 27.
Earliest zygodactyl bird feet: evidence from Early
Cretaceous roadrunner-like tracks.
Lockley MG, Li R, Harris JD, Matsukawa M, Liu M.
Dinosaur Tracks Museum, University of Colorado at
Denver, Denver, CO, 80217, USA,
Martin.Lockley@cudenver.edu.

Fossil footprints are important in understanding
Cretaceous avian diversity because they constitute
evidence of paleodiversity and paleoecology that is
not always apparent from skeletal remains. Early
Cretaceous bird tracks have demonstrated the existence
of wading birds in East Asia, but some pedal
morphotypes, such as zygodactyly, common in modern and
earlier Cenozoic birds (Neornithes) were unknown in
the Cretaceous. We, herein, discuss the implications
of a recently reported, Early Cretaceous (120-110
million years old) trackway of a large, zygodactyl
bird from China that predates skeletal evidence of
this foot morphology by at least 50 million years and
includes the only known fossil zygodactyl footprints.
The tracks demonstrate the existence of a Cretaceous
bird not currently represented in the body fossil
record that occupied a roadrunner (Geococcyx)-like
niche, indicating a previously unknown degree of
Cretaceous avian morphological and behavioral
diversity that presaged later Cenozoic patterns.