Uintan paraortygid: Fossil of New Eocene-Period Bird Species Unearthed in Utah
A new species of extinct quail-like bird has been identified from a fossil found in eastern Utah.
Dubbed Uintan paraortygid, the ancient bird lived some 44 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch.
It fits in a nearly 15 million-year gap in the fossil record of the galliform lineage in North America.
“Uintan paraortygid is similar in size to the smallest living Galliformes like quail and hill partridges,” said Dr. Thomas Stidham, a paleontologist in the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues.
“It likely lived before the evolution of the large crop and gizzard that we see in living chickens and turkeys, and therefore the Utah species likely had a diet different from its living relatives.”
“The earliest fossils of this paraortygid group are from arid habitats, the seashore, and inland forests demonstrating that they had flexibility in their ecology and diet.”
Another interesting aspect of Uintan paraortygid is that it closely resembles the small size and unique shape of other early paraortygid fossils from sediments with a similar geological age from Namibia in southern Africa and Uzbekistan in Central Asia which were all separated from each other by oceans.
“The paraortygid fossils from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America show that the group was very widely dispersed early in their evolution and crossed oceans in order to be so widely spread,” the researchers said.
A distinct tiny bone from the shoulder girdle of Uintan paraortygid was collected from the Uinta Formation in the Uinta Basin of Utah.
“The new Uinta bird fills not only a time gap, but also helps us better understand the animal community at this time,” said Dr. Beth Townsend, a scientist at Midwestern University.
“The Uinta Basin is important for understanding ecosystems during times of global warm temperatures, when forests, primates, and early horses were spread across an area that is now desert.”
“The discovery of this new paraortygid shows us that small ground-dwelling birds were part of these ancient forests and may have competed with early mammals for resources.”
“Even tiny incomplete fossils can provide the data to link global scientific questions together,” Dr. Stidham added.
The findings were published in the journal Diversity.
Thomas A. Stidham et al. 2020. Evidence for Wide Dispersal in a Stem Galliform Clade from a New Small-sized Middle Eocene Pangalliform (Aves: Paraortygidae) from the Uinta Basin of Utah (USA). Diversity 12 (3): 90; doi: 10.3390/d12030090