A gull lookalike with teeth: scientists refined their description Wednesday of a fascinating fowl at the evolutionary junction between dinosaur and modern bird—with skull features of both.
Newly-discovered fossils show the extinct Icthyornis dispar, or “fish bird”, had a mouth filled with sharp, curved teeth like those of a dinosaur, a team wrote in the scientific journal Nature. But the tip had been transformed into a sharp, toothless, “pincer-like” instrument—the original bird beak. This was likely used for preening and handling objects after reptile arms turned into wings.“Holding and perforation of prey probably fell to the sizeable, reptilian tooth row retained,” in this dino-bird, the researchers added.
Palaeontologists say the first birds evolved from small, feathered dinosaurs possibly more than 100 million years ago.
Birds survived when the large lizards were wiped out some 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period during which I. dispar also lived.
The fish bird, thought to have been a surface-skimming or shallow-plunging feeder, had a larger-than-lizard brain similar to that of today’s birds, said the researchers.