A new first of its kind fossil has been discovered of a bird that possessed large teeth specially adapted for crushing the exoskeletons of animals such as crabs and giant insects. Modern species of birds don’t possess teeth, and while it’s not really a surprise that some of their oldest ancestors did, this is some of the first evidence that we have showing that.
“A study of the teeth of a new species of early bird, Sulcavis geeorum, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, suggests this fossil bird had a durophagous diet, meaning the bird’s teeth were capable of eating prey with hard exoskeletons like insects or crabs. The researchers believe the teeth of the new specimen greatly increase the known diversity of tooth shape in early birds, and hints at previously unrecognized ecological diversity.”
“Sulcavis geeorum is an enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous (121-125 million years ago) of Liaoning Province, China. Enantiornithine birds are an early group of birds, and the most numerous birds from the Mesozoic (the time of the dinosaurs). Sulcavis is the first discovery of a bird with ornamented tooth enamel. The dinosaurs — from which birds evolved — are mostly characterized by carnivorous teeth with special features for eating meat. The enantiornithines are unique among birds in showing minimal tooth reduction and a diversity of dental patterns. This new enantiornithine has robust teeth with grooves on the inside surface, which likely strengthened the teeth against harder food items.”
There hadn’t been any known bird species that had maintained serrated edges, ridges, striations, or other types of dental ornamentation. “While other birds were losing their teeth, enantiornithines were evolving new morphologies and dental specializations. We still don’t understand why enantiornithines were so successful in the Cretaceous but then died out — maybe differences in diet played a part.” says Jingmai O’Connor, who was the lead author of this study.
“This study highlights again how uneven the diversity of birds was during the Cretaceous. There are many more enantiornithines than any other group of early birds, each one with its own anatomical specialization.” says study co-author Luis Chiappe, from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Some more information:
“Enantiornithes is an extinct group of primitive birds. They were the most abundant and diverse avialans of the Mesozoic. Almost all retained teeth and clawed fingers on each wing, but otherwise looked much like modern birds externally. Over 50 species of Enantiornithines have been named, but some names represent only single bones, so it is likely that not all are valid. Enantiornithine birds went extinct at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, along with hesperornithine birds and all other non-avian dinosaurs, and many other mostly reptilian life forms. Enantiornithines are thought to have left no living descendants.”
Image Credits: Stephanie Abramowicz