A team of paleontologists has found two fossils that belong to the largest birds in history. Reports say that these birds, known as Pelagornithids, have gigantic wingspans of up to 21 feet and hacksaw-like teeth. The report suggests that these birds traveled across the globe for about 60 million years.
Before this, scientists have discovered a much smaller fossil was found that dates from 65 million years ago. The latest fossils were recovered in the mid-1980s from Seymour Island, off the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The latest fossils consist of a 50-million-year-old portion of a bird’s foot and part of a jaw bone that dates back to about 40 million years ago.
Fossils of Pelagornithids suggest that these birds arose 65 million years ago
The portion of the bird’s foot suggests that the larger pelagornithids arose just afterlife restarted from the mass extinction 65 million years ago when dinosaurs got extinct.
The other rediscovered fossil is a middle portion of the lower jaw that has parts of its pseudo teeth preserved. This indicates that they would have been up to 3 cm (1 inch) tall when they were alive. The authors were able to show that this fragment came from a bird as big as the largest known skeletons of the bony-toothed bird group.
A team led by UC Riverside paleontologists excavated the fossils. The fossils were moved to the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley. In 2015, a UC Berkeley graduate student Peter Kloess came across the fossils in the museum.
Kloess said, “Our fossil discovery, with its estimate of a 5-to-6-meter wingspan — nearly 20 feet — shows that birds evolved to a truly gigantic size relatively quickly after the extinction of the dinosaurs and ruled over the oceans for millions of years.”
Kloess went through former UC Riverside student Judd Case’s original notes and discovered that the fossil foot bone, a tarsometatarsus, was from an older geological formation than originally thought. According to Kloess, the fossil was about 50 million years of instead of 40 million years as initially suggested.
Kloess presented his data in a paper in the Scientific Reports journal where he described the fossil in detail. Ashley Poust of the San Diego Natural History Museum, Thomas Stidham of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing serve as co-authors on the paper. Both Poust and Stidham received their Ph.Ds from UC Berkeley.
Pelagornithids have bony projections on their jaws. Because of this, they are also known as ‘bony-toothed’ birds. These projections looked like sharp-pointed teeth but were not true teeth. These ‘pseudo teeth’ were made of keratin. These helped the birds catch squid and fish from the sea when they flew over the Earth’s oceans.