A fossil unearthed in Belgium dubbed the “Wonderchicken” is providing a rare glimpse into the early evolution of modern birds at the twilight of the age of dinosaurs, right before an asteroid impact altered the course of life on Earth.
Researchers on Wednesday described a partridge-sized bird named Asteriornis maastrichtensis that inhabited a seashore environment during the Cretaceous Period 66.7 million years ago. It represents the oldest-known anatomically modern bird, sharing skull traits with today’s landfowl like chickens, turkeys, quail and pheasants as well as waterfowl like ducks, geese and swans.
Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs roughly 150 million years ago. Many birds retained primitive features like teeth until the asteroid struck about 66 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that erased three-quarters of Earth’s plant and animal species.
A current estimate for the appearance of the common ancestor of all 11,000 living species of birds is somewhere between 100 million and 70 million years ago, based on DNA mutation rates. Until now the oldest fossil of an anatomically modern bird was one called Vegavis that lived 66.5 million years ago in Antarctica, though there is a debate about its placement on the bird family tree.
At first glance, the fossil looked unimpressively like a few broken limb bones poking out of a small rock. “When we CT scanned the rocks to get a better look at the limb bones we were shocked to discover an incredible, nearly complete skull peering out at us from the computer screen,” said University of Cambridge paleontologist Daniel Field, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature. “This skull is one of the best preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, so the fact that it is from such an important point in Earth history is amazing,” Field added.
Field coined the “Wonderchicken” nickname, owing to its chicken-like beak and its scientific importance. Its scientific name “Asteriornis” honors Asteria, an ancient Greek goddess of falling stars, a nod to the imminent asteroid. In Greek mythology, Asteria was pursued by Zeus, who transformed into an eagle. In order to escape the amorous advances of Zeus, Asteria transformed herself into a quail and flung herself into the Aegean Sea, where she metamorphosed into an island like a star falling from heaven.
Asteriornis provides clues as to which factors may have helped some birds survive the asteroid impact while others perished, said paleontologist and study co-author Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, US. Its relatively small size — a 30cm-long body — may have helped it survive as the global environmental calamity caused by the asteroid strike made it hard for larger animals to find enough to eat, Ksepka said.
Its adaptation to a shoreline environment, Ksepka added, meant it would have been spared from the wildfires believed to have destroyed most of the world’s forests after the asteroid impact, which may have incinerated tree-dwelling birds.
(Reuters, with staff writer)
For the prognosticators on the US National Intelligence Council who sat down in 2004 to consider what the world might look like in 2020, the answer hinged heavily on one big question: What did the future of globalization look like? Their answer: Not great. By 2020, they predicted, globalization would face a political backlash in a world increasingly plagued by identity politics. Yet if anything was going to really derail economic integration, it would likely be the mass spread of a virulent new disease. “Short of a major global conflict, which we regard as improbable, another large-scale development that we believe could stop
Taiwan’s “queen of dancing,” Serena Liu, unexpectedly passed away on Sunday after a surgical procedure to treat a heart condition encountered complications. Liu was put on life support for 18 days, and was then fitted with a ventricular assist device to keep her alive until a new heart could be found. Liu valiantly struggled on for another 45 days before finally succumbing on Sunday, aged 44. Taiwan’s “queen of ballroom dancing“ left home to forge a path in the entertainment industry and went on to enjoy a glittering career. Liu began studying ballet at elementary school and studied Russian at National
Recently, during preparations to demolish an old school building, staff at Nanning High School in Tainan’s South District discovered an old piece of blackboard, on which was written the names of two sudents on duty — Tsai Yun-ping and Tsai Ju-fen — on that day, 33 years ago, in the school’s Junior High Division. On March 16, Tainan City Councilor Lu Wei-yin, school principal Su Tsung-li and Nanning parents’ association president Lin Ho-ling held a news conference with the theme “Tsai Yun-ping, Tsai Ju-fen, where are you?”, hoping to trace the owners of the two names written on the blackboard
A: Disaster: I’ve had to cancel my vacation to France due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The government has issued a warning on travel to the country. B: Oh, no. That’s really bad luck. Still, it’s probably a good thing: the coronavirus seems to have really taken hold in Europe. A: Actually, I’ve been worrying about whether to cancel the vacation for some time: It felt like a weight off my shoulders. A: 好慘哦：因為武漢肺炎疫情爆發，我必須取消去法國渡假。政府已經頒布前往法國的旅遊警告了。 B: 哦不。那真的很不幸。不過，這也可能是件好事：新冠病毒看起來真的已經在歐洲蔓延了。 A: 事實上，我已經擔心要不要取消這趟渡假好一陣子了：現在感覺肩頭卸下了一份重擔。 English 英文: Chinese 中文: