The fossil of a very ancient representative of birds disrupts their evolutionary history

Janavis finalidens. Rock Olive

Equipped with teeth and a movable palate, this modern dinosaur is very close to our modern birds.

67 million years ago, most birds had teeth. And some of these Cretaceous birds could be much closer than experts thought to their descendants that roam our skies today, the last representatives of the dinosaurs that dominated the world until the terrible Cretaceous-Tertiary crisis, caused by the fall of a meteorite in the Yucatan Peninsula.

But what is known about the evolutionary origins of our modern birds could be challenged by an ancient bird fossil dubbed Janavis finalidens, recently discovered in Belgium (Nature, 30 November 2022). The work on the specimen shows that the birds thought to be ancient would actually be the modern ones, and vice versa.

Modern birds (known as “neorniths”) are divided into two large groups that are unbalanced in number. The first group, called “neognaths”, is the most common; it’s pigeons, seagulls, but also eagles,…

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