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Fossil of 115-Million-Year-Old Bird Discovered in Brazil

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Palaeontologists in Brazil have discovered the fossil of an ornithuromorph bird from the Early Cretaceous epoch.


"Kaririavis mater lived during the Cretaceous period when the supercontinent Gondwana — which included South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and India — was splitting," explained Dr. Ismar de Souza Carvalho of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade de Coimbra, and colleagues.


The new species belongs to the Ornithuromorph order of birds, which includes all extinct and current species but not Mesozoic enantiornithines.


"It had both primitive and modern physical traits, making its behavior and ecological niche remain enigmatic," the paleontologists wrote.


"It possessed coarse feet, thick toe phalanges, and a claw on the second toe that was highly curled and relatively huge for its size, unlike most ornithuromorphs, which had thin feet and narrow toes."


Kaririavis mater's fossilized bones — an isolated right foot with feathers — were discovered in the Crato Formation at the Pedra Branca Mine in Brazil's Ceará state.


Its unusual foot shape suggests that it may be a member of an unknown ornithuromorph clade with some passing resemblances to current flightless ratites like the rhea or the ostrich.


Kaririavis mater is the earliest known member of Ornithuromorph from Gondwana and the oldest fossil bird from South America, according to the researchers.


"The occurrence of Early Cretaceous ornithuromorphs in Brazil suggests that the clade was widespread in Gondwana during the Mesozoic," the researchers wrote.


"The discovery sheds insight on the origins of birds on Earth," stated Professor José Xavier Neto of the Universidade Federal do Ceará.


"China is the most important source of primitive bird fossils in the world." However, because of this exceptional discovery, the birds' origin is no longer apparent and definitive: did the birds appear in China and then fly to Brazil, or did they appear in Brazil and then fly to China?"


A study published online in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology describes the finding of the Kaririavis mater.


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