Natural history is a fascinating subject and a recent groundbreaking discovery concerns a bird from the late Cretaceous period with a massive beak. The discovery charts a new course in evolutionary history.
Published in Nature journal on Wednesday, the researchers have described a previously unknown species, Falcatakely forsterae, an ancient bird with an unusually large beak resembling that of a modern-day toucan.
The fossil of this unknown bird species was discovered by researchers a decade ago in Madagascar.
However, the fossil specimen was fragile and contained many small bones, which hampered the full analysis until 2017. Once the researchers passed through the tiny fragments, they realized they had unearthed something truly special.
Patrick O’Connor, the lead author on the study and professor of Anatomical Sciences at Ohio University, told Inverse that as soon as they started to carefully remove the rock from around those delicate bones they realised that they have got something really neat.
After removing the rock, the scientists used micro-computed tomography scanners to collect data to simulate the ancient creature’s skull in 3 dimensions. The researchers then used 3D-printing to build a replica of the bird skull.
The species was named Falcatakely which roughly translates to ‘little flying sickle’, for its uniquely shaped face. It was classified Falcatakely as an enantiornithine bird, which is a group of birds that lived during the time of dinosaurs. Birds at that time often had teeth and claws on their wings. All known species from that time are now extinct.
However, researchers say Falcatakely is extraordinary and unlike most of its contemporaries that also lived 65-250 million years ago.
Birds from this era, known as the Cretaceous Period, had diverse body shapes, when it came to their faces, they tend to resemble each other. But the Falcatakely with its long, deep beak, stood out.
Falcatakely’s big beak more closely resembles those of modern birds.
Modern birds present more diversity than ancient ones when it comes to their faces.