August 10, 2011

Jawbone Adds To Evidence Of Giant Birds

Researchers say a jawbone found in Kazakhstan gives more evidence towards the theory that giant birds roamed the Earth during the same time as the dinosaur.

The team said the new species had a skull about 12-inches long and would have stood 6 to 9 feet tall.  The researchers also said the bird would have had a wingspan of about 13 feet.

The only other evidence of a bird of this size during the period was a fossilized spinal bone found in France and was reported in a 1995 paper in the journal Nature.

Dr Darren Naish of the University of Portsmouth said that a second find of an evidently different species suggests that large birds were common at the time.

"This fossil is only known from its lower jaw, so unfortunately we can't say anything at all with certainty about the shape and form of the whole animal.

"If it was flightless and sort of ostrich-shaped, it would have been maybe 2-3m tall and somewhere over 50kg," he explained to BBC News. "If it was a flying animal, then maybe it was shaped like a big albatross or a condor."

The first jawbone was uncovered at a site called Shakh-Shakh about 372 miles east of the Aral Sea during a Soviet-East German expedition in the 1970s. 

The fossil was reconstructed using plaster, glue and paint and was put on display in a Belgian museum.

"This is one of the largest birds that's ever been described of any age. We don't have much of it, but we know the lower jaw is at least as big if not bigger than the ostrich lower jaw. At the age it is, it's pretty exciting," Gareth Dyke, a paleontologist at University College Dublin, told the Guardian.

"We have always assumed that giant size in birds was something that evolved relatively late in the history of the group, so to find a specimen so early is remarkable. This is a giant of a bird with no teeth from the Late Cretaceous."

The researchers published details about the bird in the latest issue of the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters.


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