CHINA TOPIX

Updated 2:00 PM EDT, Wed, May 20, 2020

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Feathery Fossils Suggest Birds Evolved Sooner Than Believed

A. meemannae

(Photo : Zongda Zhang) A reconstructed image of the bird fossil discovered with its feathers hints it was the earliest form of water bird in north east China.

Chinese scientists discovered new feathery fossils, which were estimated to have flown over north east China about 130 million years ago, according to a study published by the journal Nature.

Comparing the age of the new fossils from the earliest known bird from the group Ornithuromorpha suggested that they came to existence sooner than previously believed, the study's lead author Wang Min said.

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The fossils of two birds (Archaeornithura meemannae) had their plumage intact within a stone that is about 130 million years old, pushing the Ornithuromorpha group further back on the evolutionary calendar by 5 million years.

The Ornithuromorpha group of the late Mesozoic Era produced today's birds and the new fossils are now the earliest identified member of the group, the study said.

The well-preserved specimens measured 15 centimeters tall. The size and shape of its bones suggested they were capable of quick flight and movement in the air.

In addition, the legs and upper region of the body had no feathers, which meant they could have been waders or birds foraging in shallow waters.

The fossils were discovered at the Sichakou basin in China's Hebei province and were studied by experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. They believed the region hosted a variety of bird life during the Cretaceous period.

Birds appeared on the evolution timeline at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, 150 million years ago.

They were divided into two groups: the Enantiornithes or birds with clawed wings and teeth and the Ornithuromorpha, which included little feathery birds. The former became extinct while the latter gave rise to birds of the modern world.

Before the recent discovery, the earliest known Ornithuromorph was 125 million years of age.

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