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A real feather in their caps

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-19 07:58

Wang Min at a field excavation in Zhenghe county, Fujian province.CHINA DAILY

Team of Chinese scientists discover fossilized remains of a new species of Jurassic-era bird, helping to fill a 30-million-year gap in existing avian records, Yang Feiyue reports.

Approximately 150 million years ago, a birdlike dinosaur found itself fatally trapped in a long-vanished swamp in today's Zhenghe county in Nanping, in the eastern province of Fujian.

Its fossilized remains were unearthed last year by a group of Chinese scientists, who later proved it to be one of the earliest birds found so far from the Jurassic period, which ended about 145 million years ago.

The team named the new species Fujianvenator prodigiosus, and phylogenetic and radioisotopic dating analyses show that it branched off from the birdlike dinosaur family Anchiornithidae approximately 148 to 150 million years ago.

The description and analysis of the ancient fossil was published in leading international science journal Nature on Sept 6.

Birds are descended from non-avialan theropods (the most diverse group of "lizard-hipped" dinosaurs) from the Middle-Late Jurassic period. "Avialan" refers to the clade Avialae that includes all birds and their closest dinosaurian relatives, but the earliest phase of this evolutionary process from dinosaur to bird remains unclear, owing to a sparse fossil record.

"Jurassic avialans are key to deciphering the evolutionary origin of the avialan body plan. More importantly, they are key to reconciling the phylogenetic controversy about the origin of birds," explains Wang Min, who is from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

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