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Fossil skull of giant toothy seabird found in Ocucaje, Ica, Peru

February 28, 2009. Source: Associated Press by Andrew Whalen

Fossil skull of giant, toothed bird found in Peru

LIMA, Peru (AP) The unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago was found on Peru's arid southern coast, researchers said Friday.

The fossil is the best-preserved cranium ever found of a pelagornithid, a family of large seabirds believed to have gone extinct some 3 million years ago, said Rodolfo Salas, head of vertebrate paleontology at Peru's National History Museum.

The museum said in a statement that the birds had wingspans of up to 20 feet (6 meters) and may have used the toothlike projections on their beaks to prey on slippery fish and squid. But studying members of the Pelagornithidae family has been difficult because their extremely thin bones while helpful for keeping the avian giants aloft tended not to survive as fossils.

"Its fossils are very strange, very rare and very hard to find," Salas told The Associated Press.

The cranium discovered in Peru is 16 inches (40 centimeters) long and is believed to be 8 million to 10 million years old, based on the age of the rock bed in which it was found.

"Rarely are any bones of these gigantic, marine birds found fossilized uncrushed, and to find an uncrushed skull of this size is very significant," said Ken Campbell, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
Campbell, who examined photos of the find but was not involved in the dig, said he knows of "no specimen of comparable quality."

Dan Kepska, a paleontology researcher at North Carolina State University who also was not part of the project, agreed that the skull is the most complete ever reported.

He called the birds "one of the great enigmas of avian paleontology."

With fossils discovered in North America, North Africa and even Antarctica, Kepska said, the birds were ubiquitous only a few million years before humans evolved and scientists puzzle over why they died out. Some believe they are related to gannets and pelicans, while other say they are related to ducks.

Campbell said the Peru find "will undoubtedly be of great importance to our understanding of these gigantic birds, and it will help clarify the relationships of the other fossil pelagornithids found in the Pisco Formation."

The formation, a coastal rock bed south of the capital, Lima, is known for yielding fossils of whales, dolphins, turtles and other marine life dating as far back as 14 million years.


Fossil of 10 million-year-old bird found in Peru

February 27, 2009. Source: Reuters UK

Peru Fossil, Ocucaje, Ica, Peru

Paleontologists working in Peru have found a fossil from a bird that lived 10 million years ago, scientists said on Friday after returning from the dig site on the country's desert coast.

The species of bird had a wing span of 19.7 feet and fed mostly on fish from the Pacific Ocean. It first appeared 50 million years ago and was extinct about 2.5 million years ago because of climate change, paleontologist Mario Urbina of Peru's Natural History Museum said.

Scientists discovered a rare fossil of the bird's head in Ocucaje, in the Ica region of Peru's southern coast, where an arid climate has preserved many fossils.

"The cranium of the bird, from the Pelagornithidae family, is the most complete find of its kind in the world. Its fossil remains are hard to find," Urbina said.

At the time of the bird's death, Peru's coast was hot and rainy, but millions of years later, it turned cool and dry, he said.

Fossil skull of giant, toothed bird found in Peru

February 27, 2009. Source: AFP

The well-preserved, 10-million-year fossil cranium of a large, toothed seabird was found in Peru's southern Ica region, a spokesman for Peru's Museum of Natural History said Friday.

"The skull of the giant bird with teeth, measuring 40 centimeters (16 inches)" was found a few months ago by paleontologist Mario Urbina in a rock strata, said Rodolfo Salas, adding that it is 10 million years old.

The fossil is of the prehistoric seabird Pelagornithidae, which had wing spans of up to six meters (20 feet) and a large bill with tooth-like projections. It lived between the mid-Paleocene and Pliocene periods 60 to three million years ago.


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Last updated: February 28, 2009