Meet 'Wonderchicken', A 66 Million-Year-Old Modern Bird That Walked Among Dinosaurs

Meet 'Wonderchicken', A 66 Million-Year-Old Modern Bird That Walked Among Dinosaurs

Researchers have found the fossils of tiny chicken-like bird fossils in a quarry near the Netherlands and Belgium border.

Somewhere near the border between Belgium and Netherlands, a group of researchers found small bone fragments sticking out of a rock. These fragments were so light and delicate that they could fit in their palms. Upon serious testing, they concluded it belongs to a bird but little did they know its age or the era that it was from. The researchers then subjected their new-found treasure to X-ray CT scans, and that is when they quite literally found out the ground-breaking truth behind it. The bones were 66.7 million years old, which meant these were the remains of birds that survived around the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth and were said to be alive when an ill-fated asteroid crashed into the earth, pushing countless animal species into extinction.



As the researchers made progress with their studies, they realized that the skull shared many similarities with the modern ducks and chicken, meaning these two bird species have been around for millions of years and thrived as dinosaurs went extinct. On Wednesday, the group published their findings in the Nature journal where they dubbed the bird, "Wonderchicken". According to CNN, Daniel Field, Vertebrate Paleontologist at Cambridge University's Department of Earth Sciences and author of the study, wrote: "The moment I first saw what was beneath the rock was the most exciting moment of my scientific career. This is one of the best-preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, from anywhere in the world. We almost had to pinch ourselves when we saw it, knowing that it was from such an important time in Earth's history."



The researchers didn't come up with the name at random either, they based it off of Asteriornis maastrichtensis, which Wonderchicken is also known as. Also, according to Greek mythology,  Asteria was the Titan goddess of falling stars, in earth's case, asteroids. Daniel Ksepka, co-author and science curator at Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, wrote: "We thought it was an appropriate name for a creature that lived just before the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact. In Greek mythology, Asteria transforms herself into a quail, and we believe Asteriornis was close to the common ancestor that today includes quails, as well as chickens and ducks."



Albert Chen, co-author and a PhD Student at University of Cambridge alluded to the fact that there are 11,000 bird species, and due to their delicate bone structure, fossils are extremely difficult to come by. "The origins of living bird diversity are shrouded in mystery -- other than knowing that modern birds arose at some point towards the end of the age of dinosaurs, we have very little fossil evidence of them until after the asteroid hit," he said. "This fossil provides our earliest direct glimpse of what modern birds were like during the initial stages of their evolutionary history."



Talking about the scans, Field chimed in: "The ability to CT scan fossils, like we can at the Cambridge Biotomography Centre, has completely transformed how we study paleontology in the 21st century. Juan Benito, another co-author and the person behind identifying the bones during the scanning process, said: "Finding the skull blew my mind. Without these cutting-edge scans, we never would have known that we were holding the oldest modern bird skull in the world." All of these latest discoveries only point to us that there are far more things not just in the universe but on our very own planet we don't know about. Asteroid landings, famines, natural disasters make it even harder to find out the roots behind our existence.

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