Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fossil of ancient, feathered ‘Eagle Predator’ found in Wyoming

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia have announced the discovery of the first ever fossil of an extinct eagle predator called “Sossusvlei” in Wyoming, Washington.

According to Paleontology.com, this discovery would be the most well-preserved and the most complete bird species ever discovered in North America.

The team has determined the species features a “long, slender beak, measured 15 millimeters on the tip, broad wings, a broad tail, and an unusual crest on the tail. The horned mount can only be seen with very detailed scans, which makes the species unique,” write P. Buchanan and his colleagues at Paleontology.com.

As they continued to excavate the site, it became clear the find was much more than just a rock face.

“We quickly realized that the site we were working on was really special. The group in charge of cleaning and wrapping up the fossils at this time of year was very busy with sports teams competing in a local tournament and we didn’t have time to survey them or take any measurements for us to do anything with,” said Nicholas Caballero-Reynolds of the University of Adelaide.

Some other experts believe the fossil could be part of a species with feathers.

“This is the most complete bird skeleton I have ever seen,” Caballero-Reynolds said. “I have also uncovered the first more complete bird skulls.”

There’s still the issue of how this bird could have lived in the mountains of Wyoming.

Caballero-Reynolds said, “It is known from the photos and sketches we are getting from the rock that we are seeing not a heron or any duck-billed raptor, but rather a bird with feathers.”

“It was difficult to figure out why it would be hiding in plain sight, in the rocks,” he said. “As part of the expedition we uncovered a fossil, a seal of a bird called Theropod Oryx which died about 250 million years ago, and showed that it shared most of the feathers with this newly discovered bird,” added Caballero-Reynolds.

“How did it survive so long in the mountains, then these, what, all these bones? Nobody had really investigated this site before to uncover this kind of important fossil.”

They think this might be a bird from the Fricaster family, and were still working to discover more details.

“What we can say is this was definitely a large, feathered bird from a part of the world that nobody had ever seen,” Caballero-Reynolds said.

The group is currently working on a 3D digital mapping of the site. The team will publish the results of this work in paleontology.

Buchanan and his colleagues conducted the initial research with computational biologist Nick Longrich, David Carson of the US Geological Survey and University of Kansas PhD student Alexander Zakakay.

They intend to next study the new species to learn more about how it interacted with other birds in that time period. They also plan to look at the geology of the area for clues about the bird’s size and movement patterns.

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