Nikita V. Zelenkov, Alexander O. Averianov & Evgeny V. Popov (2017)
An Ichthyornis-like bird from the earliest Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of European Russia.
Cretaceous Research (advance online publication)
Ornithuromorph birds (the clade which includes modern avian radiation) first appeared in the Early Cretaceous in Asia and achieved a great diversity during the latest ages of the Late Cretaceous (Campanian and Maastrichtian). The evolutionary history of orithuromorphs during the first 17 MYAs of the Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian to Santonian ages) remains very poorly known, as the fossil record for this time interval is largely restricted to several isolated finds of the classic avian genus Ichthyornis in North America. Here we describe an isolated distal tibiotarsus of an evolutionary advanced bird, morphologically similar to Ichthyornis, from the middle Cenomanian of Saratov Province, European Russia. This is the first documentation of an Ichthyornis-like bird in the Old World. The find further constitutes only the second pre-Campanian record of the Late Cretaceous Ornithuromorpha in Eurasia, the second record of Mesozoic birds in Russia. This discovery shows that Ichthyornis-like birds enjoyed a wide geographical distribution as early as the beginning of the Late Cretaceous. Given that the earliest and the most primitive ornithuromorph birds are known from Asia, the new find supports a Eurasian origin for Ichthyornithidae.