In DepthPaleontology

Fossils reveal how ancient birds got their beaks

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Science  04 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 477
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6388.477

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Birds are dinosaurs, linked to their extinct relatives by feathers and other aspects of their anatomy. But birds' beaks—splendidly versatile adaptations that allow their owners to grasp, pry, preen, and tear—are nothing like stiff dinosaurian snouts, and how they evolved has been a mystery. Now, 3D computer scans of new fossils of an iconic ancient bird capture the beak just as it took form. Scientists have scanned four new fossil specimens of Ichthyornis, an ancient seabird from about 90 million years ago, which has long been famous for having a body like a modern bird, but a snout lined with teeth like a dinosaur. By bringing details from multiple specimens together, the scans allow researchers to glimpse the beginnings of key features of bird heads, including a large brain, a pointed beak, and a movable upper jaw that helps make beaks so nimble.