Scientists have identified the fossil of a giant bird that lived about 50 million years ago, with wingspans of up to 21 feet that would dwarf today’s largest bird, the wandering albatross.
- Called Pelagornithids, the birds filled a niche much like that of today’s albatrosses and travelled widely over Earth’s oceans for at least 60 million years.
- They are known as ‘bony-toothed’ birds because of the bony projections, or struts, on their jaws that resemble sharp-pointed teeth, though they are not true teeth, like those of humans and other mammals.
- The bony protrusions were covered by a horny material, keratin, which is like our fingernails, the researchers said.
- Called pseudoteeth, the struts helped the birds snag squid and fish from the sea as they soared for perhaps weeks at a time over much of Earth’s oceans, they said.
- The pelagornithids came along to claim the wingspan record in the Cenozoic, after the mass extinction and lived until about 2.5 million years ago. Around that same time, teratogens, now extinct, ruled the skies, they said.
- The newly described fossil — a 50 million-year-old portion of a bird’s foot — shows that the larger Pelagornithids arose just afterlife rebounded from the mass extinction 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs, went extinct.
- The last known pelagornithid is from 2.5 million years ago, a time of changing climate as Earth cooled, and the ice ages began.