58-Million-Year-Old Flying Seabird Discovered in New Zealand

Jan 27, 2014 by Sci-News.com

An international group of paleontologists reported the discovery of a fossil seabird species that lived in what is modern New Zealand during the early Paleocene, around 58 million years ago. The bird, named Australornis lovei, is one of the world’s oldest species of flying seabirds.

This is an artist's impression of Australornis lovei. Image credit: Derek Onley.

This is an artist’s impression of Australornis lovei. Image credit: Derek Onley.

The fossil bones of Australornis lovei were collected from the Waipara greensand deposits of North Canterbury, New Zealand’s South Island.

These deposits were formed in the deep waters of a very warm sea off the coast of Zealandia – the continental fragment that New Zealand rests upon, shortly after the event that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and many marine organisms.

Australornis lovei was about 70 – 85 cm in length and weighed 1.5 – 2 kg.

The bird had similarities to two species from the late Cretaceous from the Antarctic Peninsula.

“This new species is important in our understanding of bird evolution because although there is a number of bird groups described from the late Cretaceous, most belong to groups not present on Earth today,” said Dr Paul Scofield of New Zealand’s Canterbury Museum, the second author of a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Fossil bones of Australornis lovei. Abbreviations: cbp - crista bicipitalis; cdp - crista deltopectoralis; csc - cotyla scapularis; csr - capital shaft ridge; fah - facies articularis humeralis; msc - scar for musculus scapulohumeralis cranialis; prj - projection formed by facies articularis clavicularis; tbd - tuberculum dorsale. Image credit: G Mayr & RP Scofield.

Fossil bones of Australornis lovei. Abbreviations: cbp – crista bicipitalis; cdp – crista deltopectoralis; csc – cotyla scapularis; csr – capital shaft ridge; fah – facies articularis humeralis; msc – scar for musculus scapulohumeralis cranialis; prj – projection formed by facies articularis clavicularis; tbd – tuberculum dorsale. Image credit: G Mayr & RP Scofield.

“The find is exciting. We hope to find more material of this pivotal species to enable a better understanding of its relationships and to allow us to better understand early avian evolution,” added first author Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum.

The bird has been named after its discoverer – Mr Leigh Love, an amateur fossil collector from Waipara.

The discovery highlights the links between Antarctica and New Zealand in the late Cretaceous and early Paleocene.

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G Mayr & RP Scofield. First diagnosable non-sphenisciform bird from the early Paleocene of New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, published online January 21, 2014; doi: 10.1080/03036758.2013.863788