Tuesday, 8 January 2013

My, what exoskeleton crushing teeth you have!

A bird with some seriously robust teeth has been unearthed recently in Liaoning province, China. The fossilised remains of Sulcavis geeorum are described in the January issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and show some unusual dental morphology - not only does this bird have teeth, but they're sharply pointed with distinct grooves on the inside surface.

This sparrow-sized flier, which belonged to the enantiornithine group of toothed birds, lived between 121 and 125 million years ago, consuming a diet of smaller hard-shelled creatures such as insects or crabs.

As rare as hen's teeth might be today, it seems that the group to which this bird belonged to were evolving new and toothy ways to exploit a variety of ecological niches - at a time when other birds were losing their dentitions.

Although small, this bird and it's relatives were certainly toothsome. I like to think of them as Darwin finches with attitude...

Sulcavis geeorum skull, a fossil bird from the Early Cretaceous.
Photo by Stephanie Abramowicz. Scale bar in mm.

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