Confuciusornis shifan

The fossil remains of a 119 million-year-old beaked bird were recently discovered in China.

About Confuciusornis shifan

  • Confuciusornis shifan lived during the Early Cretaceous Period, around 119 million years ago in present-day China.
  • It belonged to the Confuciusornithidae family of the genus Confuciusornis, a groups of crow-sized beaked birds.
  • The fossil of Confuciusornis shifan’s skeleton was preserved on a single slab in the Jiufotang Formation, which was found close to the Xiaotaizi village in the Chinese province of Liaoning.
  • The fossil was nearly complete and highly articulate.
  • This species is estimated to have weighed less than 200 grams and was smaller than majority of other confuciusornithid species.
  • Compared to other confuciusornithids, this species showed evidence of having stronger flight capabilities.
  • It is different from other Mesozoic birds due to the presence of an additional cushion-like bone in the first digit of the wing. This feature is significant as it may have helped the bird meet the functional demand of flight at a stage when the skeletal growth was still incomplete.
  • The discovery of Confuciusornis shifan highlights the morphological, developmental and functional diversity of the earliest beaked birds.

About Confuciusornithidae family

The Confuciusornithidae is a group of Early Cretaceous pygostylian birds that were found in the Jehol Biota of East Asia. This group represents the earliest known toothless, beaked birds. Till date, five genera and 11 species discovered at the Dabeigou, Yixian and Jiufotang formations have been identified to be members of this family. However, the validity of some of these species is being questioned.

The members of this family are represented by numerous well-preserved specimens that collectively provided detailed information regarding the confuciusornithid morphology, taxonomy, flight ability, growth, diet, and ecology.

Researchers conducted aerodynamic analyses under phylogeny and found that the varying mode of flight adaptation emerged across different species of confuciusornithids and to a lesser degree over the course of their ontogeny. Studies have shown that the flight capabilities of these birds have improved and there were changes in the flight strategies during the course of evolution.




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