Remains of ancient bird with ‘dinosaur head’ found in China

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have found in northern China the body prints of a previously unknown species of ancient birds Cratonavis zhui, which had a typical bird’s body and wings, but their skull was similar to a similar part of the body of dinosaurs.

These birds claim to be one of the “lost links in the evolution” of birds.

“The study of the history of the appearance of birds and the search for “lost links in their evolution” is now complicated by a small number of fossils of birds from the clade Pygostylia, which includes all modern and ancient birds.

We found in the Early Cretaceous deposits in Liaoning province the body prints of Cratonavis zhui, a bird that had a unique combination of a typical avian body anatomy and a primitive skull that would be more appropriate on a dinosaur torso,” the researchers write.

Over the past two decades, paleontologists’ ideas about the appearance and evolutionary history of dinosaurs and the first birds have changed radically.

Now scientists believe that almost all dinosaurs had plumage, many of them hatched eggs and looked after their offspring, and several species of ancient protobirds, such as Gansus yumenensis and Confuciusornis sanctus, now claim the role of the “lost link” of evolution.

A team of Chinese paleontologists led by Zhou Zhonghe, director of the Institute of Paleoanthropology and Vertebrate Paleontology of the CAS in Beijing, discovered another contender for this role during excavations carried out in the vicinity of Xiaotaizi village, located in the southeast of Liaoning province.

Bird with dinosaur head

On the territory of this region, as the researchers note, sedimentary rocks of the Jiufotang formation occur, which formed about 120 million years ago, at the beginning of the Cretaceous period.

In these deposits, scientists have already found a large number of body prints of feathered dinosaurs and primitive birds, including Confuciusornis sanctus and many other flying birds.

Recently, researchers discovered in this region of China the body prints of a fairly large ancient bird, which had a mass of about 600 grams and a length of two or three dozen centimeters.

When scientists scanned her remains with a CT scanner, they were surprised to find that the creature they discovered, named Cratonavis zhui, had an extremely unusual “mosaic” anatomy.

This was manifested in the fact that this ancient bird had approximately the same anatomy of the bones of the spine and the motor system of the wings as Confuciusornis sanctus and modern birds, but at the same time its skull was very primitive.

It did not have an aerodynamic shape, had a relatively large mass, a large number of teeth, and at the same time it looked more like the skull of a flightless predatory theropod dinosaur than a bird.

In this regard, as scientists note, Cratonavis zhui were not only unlike modern birds and Confuciornis, but also Archeopteryx and other ancient bird lizards, claiming to be the progenitor of all birds.

Such an unusual anatomy of Cratonavis zhui not only makes it one of the candidates for the role of the “lost link in the evolution” of birds, but also suggests that their development simultaneously proceeded along a large number of very different trajectories, summed up Zhou Zhonghe and his colleagues.

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