STL Science Center

STL Science Center

01 June 2012

Holy Birds

This month I decided that I would dedicate the month to fossil birds. I have picked out a small menagerie of wonderful animals with and without teeth, waterfowl and fliers, and even a landstriding behemoth. June is going to be a good month. To start that month off well I have a very nice Richard Hartley illustration to present:
©Richard Hartley
This, my friends, is Confuciusornis. Confuciusornis is a four species genus (C. sanctus, type, C. dui, C. fedduciai, and C. jianchangensis). A few hundred specimens have been found in the Yixian formation of China making it one of the most abundant fossils of the formation. It has twin tail streamers, typically though there are also plenty of fossils without, but more about that and its implications later, and is the first fossil bird to be recognized as lacking teeth and possessing a beak. Confuciusornis is a crow sized bird so if you look out your window, or if you don't have crows look them up somewhere, you can get a good picture of just how large this bird was when it was flitting around in the Early Cretaceous. Pointing to its youth in the bird family tree, a claw or two sticks out at the end of its teeny hands on the edge of the wing as well, but this is certainly a bird albeit a very early bird. The abundance of information about Confuciusornis will make for a very good discussion as this week rolls on!

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