The Grapevine

Ancient Bird With Long Toe Found Encased In Amber

It seems as if our planet’s ancient past and early beginnings has no shortages of weird and bizarre creatures that used to roam it. From saber-toothed tigers, to ancient legged whales, to possibly giant insects and a bird with a freakishly long toe? That’s right. Funny as it may sound, there was a bird that lived around 99 million years ago with an unnaturally long toe. Beat that, dinosaurs.

An unnaturally long asset

The bird’s remains or more specifically, the remains of its right leg and foot were found encased in a small chunk of amber by scientists. According to them, the bird’s third digit is about 9.8 millimeters long. This makes it around 41 percent longer than its second-longest digit, and 20 percent longer than its third one.

In the report, published last July 11 in Current Biology, the research team detailed that this kind of foot morphology is unique and is possibly the only one among all known bird species, alive or not. However, the team still has no clue what purpose the unnaturally long to served. Per speculation, it may have been used to reach high places or even help get food or catch prey.

Led by paleontologist and frequent amber-fossil finder Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing , the research team went on to work trying to trace its ancient roots. To do this, the team compared the toe size ratios of almost 20 other Mesozoic-era birds. The team then found that no other bird has the same dramatic difference in toe length as this one.

As a result, the bird was identified as a new species, called Elektorornis chenguangi, after the prefix elektor, which means amber, and ornix, which means bird.

From the data they found, the team concluded that E. chenguangi was a member of claw-footed birds that died out some 66 million years ago. E. chenguangi was also most probably a tree dweller based on its size, and must have used the extra long toe to grasp on to branches. Using it to reach food is also another possibility.

adler-3491892_960_720 Bird's claws. Photo by Pixabay (CC0)