Lithornithidae

Lithornithidae is an extinct, possibly paraphyletic[1] (but see below) clade of early paleognath birds. They are known from fossils dating to the Upper Paleocene through the Middle Eocene of North America and Europe, with possible Late Cretaceous representatives.[1][2] All are extinct today;[3] the youngest specimen is the currently unnamed SGPIMH MEV1 specimen from the mid-Eocene Messel Pit site.[4]

Lithornis owen1846
Woodcut of the Lithornis vulturinus holotype

Lithornithids had long, slender, bills for probing. They closely resembled modern tinamous. They possessed a rhynchokinetic skull with relatively unfused cranial bones, a weakly fused pygostyle and a splenial. The unguals were more curved than in tinamous and probably allowed better perching in trees.

The order Lithornithiformes was erected by Dr. Peter Houde in 1988. Initially, only three genera (Lithornis, Paracathartes, and Pseudocrypturus) and eight named species were included.[3] Promusophaga (Harrison & Walker, 1977) originally considered a stem-turaco, is considered synonymous with Lithornis vulturinus. Fissuravis may also belong to the clade,[5] and several unnamed remains are known.

Lithornithidae
Temporal range: Paleocene-Eocene, 56–40 Ma
Possible Cretaceous record
Pseudocrypturus
Pseudocrypturus cercanaxius fossil cast, Zoologisk Museum, Copenhagen
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Lithornithiformes
Family: Lithornithidae
Houde, 1988
Genera

Calciavis
Fissuravis
Lithornis
Paracathartes
Pseudocrypturus

Taxonomy

Lithornithiformes Houde, 1988[6][7]

Several studies have shown conflicting status on the monophyly of the group. Some studies recover them as a paraphyletic assemblage leading to modern paleognaths,[1] but more recent examinations group them in a single, natural group basal to the rest of Palaeognathae.[8] Of issue is Paracathartes, which differs radically from other lithornithids and has been suggested to more closely related to extant paleognaths,[9] though it is recently recovered as a derived lithornithid.[10][note 1]

Lithornis itself may be paraphyletic in relation to Paracathartes and Pseudocrypturus.[10]

Flight

Lithornis
Life restoration of Lithornis.

Unlike modern paleognaths, lithornithids were generally decent flyers. Lithornis, Pseudocrypturus and Fissuravis all possess well developed keels, pectoral girdle elements and proportionally large wings, allowing for soaring flight akin to that of birds such as modern vultures and storks.[9][11][1] By contrast, however, Paracathartes had shorter and more robust wing elements and a deeper keel, relating to a flight style more akin to that of modern gamefowl and tinamous, and was possibly far more terrestrial.[1]

Unlike neognath birds, lithornithids had small pygostyles, and probably no tails.[1] This may not have impaired their flight, however, since prehistoric birds like enantiornithes also generally had no tails.

It has been suggested that lithornithids have increased in size in response to the extinction of terrestrial pterosaurs, suggesting that they occupied similar ecological niches.[12]

Olphaction

In a study about ratite endocasts, Lithornis ranks among the taxa with well developed olfactory lobes. This is consistent with a nocturnal, forest-dwelling lifestyle, though as much all volant birds it retains large optical lobes.[13]

Eggs

Several egg fossils have been attributed to lithornithid birds.[1] Both Lithornis and Paracathartes have entire nests assigned to them.[14] Their eggshells are, perhaps unsurprisingly, noted as being "ratite-like".[15]

Notes

  1. ^ This particular study defaults to the traditional paleognath classification scheme, based on the similarities with tinamous. The more recent genetic revaluations are vindicated, however, in that it recognises that the features uniting lithornithids to tinamous in the study are most likely basal to paleognaths as a whole.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Paleogene Fossil Birds
  2. ^ A lithornithid (Aves: Palaeognathae) from the Paleocene (Tiffanian) of southern California
  3. ^ a b Houde, Peter W. (1988). "Paleognathous Birds from the Early Tertiary of the Northern Hemisphere". Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club. Cambridge Massachusetts, USA: Nuttall Ornithological Club. 22.
  4. ^ First substantial Middle Eocene record of the Lithornithidae (Aves): A postcranial skeleton from Messel (Germany)
  5. ^ Gerald Mayr, Paleogene Fossil Birds
  6. ^ Mikko's Phylogeny Archive [1] Haaramo, Mikko (2007). "Paleognathia - paleognathous modern birds". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Taxonomic lists- Aves". Paleofile.com. Archived from the original on 11 January 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  8. ^ Nesbitt, Sterling J.; Clarke, Julia A., The anatomy and taxonomy of the exquisitely preserved Green River Formation (early Eocene) lithornithids (Aves) and the relationships of Lithornithidae. (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, no. 406), 2016-06-30
  9. ^ a b Houde, Peter W. (1988). "Paleognathous Birds from the Early Tertiary of the Northern Hemisphere". Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club (Cambridge, MA)
  10. ^ a b Worthy, T., Mitri, M., Handley, W., Lee, M., Anderson, A., Sand, C. 2016. Osteology supports a steam-galliform affinity for the giant extinct flightless birds Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Sylviornithidae, Galloanseres). PLOS ONE. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150871
  11. ^ Gerald Mayr, The Birds from the Paleocene Fissure Filling of Walbeck (Germany), Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27(2):394–408, June 2007
  12. ^ Longrich, N.R., Martill, D.M., and Andres, B. (2018). Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs from North Africa and mass extinction of Pterosauria at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. PLoS Biology, 16(3): e2001663. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2001663
  13. ^ Torres, C. R.; Clarke, J. A. (2018). "Nocturnal giants: evolution of the sensory ecology in elephant birds and other palaeognaths inferred from digital brain reconstructions". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 285 (1890): 20181540. doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1540.
  14. ^ Houde, Peter W. (1988). "Paleognathous Birds from the Early Tertiary of the Northern Hemisphere". Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club (Cambridge, MA) 22.
  15. ^ Gerald Grellet-Tinner and Gareth J. Dyke, The eggshell of the Eocene bird Lithornis, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50 (4), 2005: 831-835
1979 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology (from Greek: paleo, "ancient"; ontos, "being"; and logos, "knowledge") is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 1979.

1984 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology (from Greek: paleo, "ancient"; ontos, "being"; and logos, "knowledge") is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 1984.

1988 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology (from Greek: paleo, "ancient"; ontos, "being"; and logos, "knowledge") is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 1988.

2007 in paleontology

Paleontology or palaeontology (from Greek: paleo, "ancient"; ontos, "being"; and logos, "knowledge") is the study of prehistoric life forms on Earth through the examination of plant and animal fossils. This includes the study of body fossils, tracks (ichnites), burrows, cast-off parts, fossilised feces (coprolites), palynomorphs and chemical residues. Because humans have encountered fossils for millennia, paleontology has a long history both before and after becoming formalized as a science. This article records significant discoveries and events related to paleontology that occurred or were published in the year 2007.

Calciavis

Calciavis is an extinct genus of bird from the Eocene of Wyoming. It is a lithornithid, a member of a lineage of flying palaeognaths, distantly related to modern ratites. Like many other fossils from the Green River Formation, it is exceptionally well preserved, bearing soft-tissue impressions of skin and feathers.

Fissuravis

Fissuravis ("fissure bird") is a genus of extinct bird from the Paleocene of Germany. A lithornithid, it was closely related to modern ratites, but it was a capable flyer.

List of fossil bird genera

Birds evolved from certain feathered theropod dinosaurs, and there is no real dividing line between birds and dinosaurs, except of course that some of the former survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event while the latter did not. For the purposes of this article, a 'bird' is considered to be any member of the clade Aves sensu lato. Some dinosaur groups which may or may not be true birds are listed below under Proto-birds.

This page contains a listing of prehistoric bird taxa only known from completely fossilized specimens. These extinctions took place before the Late Quaternary and thus took place in the absence of significant human interference. While the earliest hominids had been eating birds and especially their eggs, human population and technology was simply insufficient to seriously affect healthy bird populations until the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. Rather, reasons for the extinctions listed here are stochastic abiotic events such as bolide impacts, climate change due to orbital shifts, mass volcanic eruptions etc. Alternatively, species may have gone extinct due to evolutionary displacement by successor or competitor taxa – it is notable that an extremely large number of seabirds have gone extinct during the mid-Tertiary; this seems at least partly due to competition by the contemporary radiation of marine mammals.

The relationships of these taxa are often hard to determine, as many are known only from very fragmentary remains and due to the complete fossilization precluding analysis of information from DNA, RNA or protein sequencing. The taxa listed in this article should be classified with the Wikipedia conservation status category "Fossil".

Before the late 19th century, when minerals were still considered one of the kingdoms of binomial nomenclature, fossils were often treated according to a parallel taxonomy. Rather than assigning them to animal or plant genera, they were treated as mineral genera and given binomial names typically using Osteornis ("bone-bird") or Ornitholithus ("bird fossil") as "genus". The latter name, however, is still in use for an oogenus of fossil bird eggs. Also, other animals (in particular pterosaurs) were placed in these "genera". In sources pre-dating the Linnean system, the above terms are also seen in the more extensive descriptions used to name taxa back then.

List of paleognath species

The paleognaths (Palaeognathae) are a clade of bird species of gondwanic distribution in Africa, South America, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. The group have more than 50 living species and includes the ostriches, rheas, kiwis, emus, cassowaries and tinamous. They are, with Neognathae, the two main lineages of modern birds (Neornithes). Extinct species assignment follows the Mikko's Phylogeny Archive, Paleofile.com website and Brodkob.

Lithornis

Lithornis is a genus of extinct paleognathous birds. Lithornis were able to fly well, but are closely related to today's tinamous (which are poor flyers) and ratites (which are flightless birds).

Fossils of Lithornis are known with certainty from the Upper Paleocene through the Middle Eocene, but their fossil record may extend to the late Cretaceous. "Lithornis" is from ancient Greek for "stone bird", as it is one of the first fossil birds to become widely discussed. Presumably closely related genera are Paracathartes and Pseudocrypturus.

Messel pit

The Messel Pit (German: Grube Messel) is a disused quarry near the village of Messel, (Landkreis Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hesse) about 35 km (22 mi) southeast of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Bituminous shale was mined there. Because of its abundance of fossils, it has significant geological and scientific importance. After almost becoming a landfill, strong local resistance eventually stopped these plans and the Messel Pit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site on 9 December 1995. Significant scientific discoveries are still being made and the site has increasingly become a tourist site as well.

Paracathartes

Paracathartes is a genus of extinct bird from the Wasachtian horizon of lower Eocene Wyoming, USA. One species, Paracathartes howardae has been described.

It is a paleognathous bird, turkey-like in stature and size, that probably resembled a tinamou quite closely.

Paracathartes was described by Harrison as the earliest known cathartid vulture. Rich criticized this assignment. Houde (1988) included it as a member of the order Lithornithiformes and family Lithornithidae.The holotype specimen is in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum. It has catalog number ROM 22658. It is the distal end of a left tibiotarsus. It was collected by G. E. Lindblad and G. Sternberg on 4 August 1949. It was found at the northernmost branch of Elk Creek, near Basin, Wyoming. The horizon is Greybullian, middle Wasatchian (early Eocene), Willwood Formation, Bighorn Basin.

Further specimens of Paracathartes were collected, including almost the whole skeleton (USNM 361402-361446, 391984, 404747-404806) from at least five individuals preserved together. These bones were associated with three whole eggs (USNM 336564) and an avian neurocranium (USNM 361415) which may belong to Paracathartes or to a possible phorusrhacid.

Pseudocrypturus

Pseudocrypturus is a genus of extinct paleognathous bird. One species is known, Pseudocrypturus cercanaxius. It is a relative of such modern birds as ostriches. It lived in the early Eocene.

The holotype fossil is in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. It has catalog number USNM 336103. It was collected from the Fossil Butte Member, Green River Formation, Lincoln County, Wyoming, USA.

Turaco

The turacos make up the bird family Musophagidae (literally "banana-eaters"), which includes plantain-eaters and go-away-birds. In southern Africa both turacos and go-away-birds are commonly known as loeries. They are semi-zygodactylous – the fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth. The second and third toes, which always point forward, are conjoined in some species. Musophagids often have prominent crests and long tails; the turacos are noted for peculiar and unique pigments giving them their bright green and red feathers.

Traditionally, this group has been allied with the cuckoos in the order Cuculiformes, but the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy raises this group to a full order Musophagiformes. They have been proposed to link the hoatzin to the other living birds, but this was later disputed. Recent genetic analysis have strongly supported the order ranking of Musophagiformes.Musophagids are medium-sized arboreal birds endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, where they live in forests, woodland and savanna. Their flight is weak, but they run quickly through the tree canopy. They feed mostly on fruits and to a lesser extent on leaves, buds, and flowers, occasionally taking small insects, snails, and slugs. As their name suggests, turacos enjoy bananas and can become so tame as to be hand-fed. They are also partial to grapes and pawpaw (papaya).

They are gregarious birds that do not migrate but move in family groups of up to 10. Many species are noisy, with the go-away-birds being especially noted for their piercing alarm calls, which alert other fauna to the presence of predators or hunters; their common name is onomatopoeia of this. Musophagids build large stick nests in trees, and lay 2 or 3 eggs. The young are born with thick down and open, or nearly-open, eyes.

Velizar Simeonovski

Velizar Simeonovski (Bulgarian: Велизар Симеоновски; born 14 February 1968 in Borovan, Vratsa Province, Bulgaria) is a wildlife artist and zoologist from Bulgaria who is living and working in the United States. His main interest is the paleoart, the scientific illustration and artistic reconstruction of extinct species and the visualization of primeval landscapes. Simeonovski uses computer programs to create his drawings. He is married and has two sons. Since 2003, he works for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

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