This ancient bird sported a ginormous toe

Scientist think the bird may have used its toe to hook grubs out of tree trunks- Zhongda Zhang  Current Biology

Scientist think the bird may have used its toe to hook grubs out of tree trunks- Zhongda Zhang Current Biology

The elongated toe resembles those seen on lemurs and tree-climbing lizards, and illustrates the unusual lifestyle of some of the earliest birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs, researchers said.

Researchers in China have discovered a new species of ancient bird preserved in amber- and it's packing one seriously impressive toe.

They made a decision to declare the bird a new species and named it Elektorornis chenguangi, which means "amber bird" in Greek.

In the absence of any other mega-long toes, the authors admit they can not be sure what role this appendage played, only that it was probably advantageous in some ecological niche that's no longer exploited.

Paleontologists are unsure what goal the extra-long toe served, but it may have helped the cretaceous period bird find food in difficult-to-reach places such as holes in trees.

A handful of Cretaceous bird fossils have been found in Burmese amber, but this is the first to be identified as a new species.

This photograph shows a almost 100-million-year-old bird foot featuring a very long toe preserved in amber.

Enantiornithes were wiped out along with the non-avian dinosaurs, while Neornithes went on to become the diverse group of birds - from ostriches to penguins, eagles to hummingbirds - that now inhabits our planet. "They had evolved many different features to adapt to their environments". To confirm the bird's toe was unique, the scientists tried to match it with the bones of 20 extinct birds which lived during the same period, as well as 62 living birds.

Based on the fossil, the team estimates that the Elektorornis was smaller than a sparrow, and it was arboreal, meaning it spent most of its time in trees as opposed to on the ground or in water.

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"I was very surprised at the time", Dr Xing told the Times, recalling that the fossil was "undoubtedly the claw of a bird".

Using the scientific term for tree-dwelling birds, Jingmai O'Connor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, co-author of the study, commented in a statement: "Elongated toes are something you commonly see in arboreal animals because they need to be able to grip these branches and wrap their toes around them".

However, they explain that like most birds, the foot had four toes, while lizards have five. A year ago another team of scientists found the remains of an ancient proto-spider encased in amber. It is believed that Elektorornis may have used its elongated toes for the same goal.

The preserved toe measures less than half an inch from knuckle to claw-tip, making it 41% longer than the next longest digit on the animal's foot.

Without any modern birds to compare it to, "t$3 his is the best guess we have", O'Connor says.

Moving forward, the team hopes to extract the proteins and pigments from some feathers exposed on the surface of the amber.

These sorts of special adaptations may have helped propel Enantiornithes to evolutionary success during the age of dinosaurs.

The bird was found in the Asian country of Myanmar in 2014 and was originally thought by local traders to be a lizard.

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