A set of fossils found four decades ago in Antarctica belongs to the largest flying bird in history, a study revealed.
Known as pelagornithids, this group of birds could grow up to 21 feet (6 meters), according to researchers at the University of California at Berkley.
The dimensions are compared to the 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) that the wandering albatross can measure, the largest bird today.
The ages of the fossils, which range from 65 million years to 2.5 million years, suggest that the pelagornithids arose after the great extinction of the dinosaurs.
According to the researchers, these birds traveled the Earth’s oceans for at least 60 million years.
“Our discovery of fossils, with an estimated wingspan of 5 to 6 meters, almost 20 feet, shows that birds evolved to a truly gigantic size relatively quickly after the extinction of the dinosaurs and ruled the oceans for millions of years,” said the researcher. Peter Kloess of the University of California, Berkeley.
The last known pelagornithid corresponds to about 2.5 million years ago, a time of climate change when the Earth cooled and the ice ages began.
The fossils described by paleontologists are among many collected in the mid-1980s on Seymour Island, at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Bony teeth birds
Pellagornithids are known as “bony-toothed” birds, due to the projections on their jaws that resemble pointed teeth.
However, they are not true teeth, like those of humans and other mammals.
The bony bumps, which were covered in keratin, helped birds catch squid and fish, as they soared over much of Earth’s oceans.
Research documents these large, giant, predatory, bony-toothed, extinct birds were part of the Antarctic ecosystem for more than 10 million years, flying side-by-side over the heads of swimming penguins.
“In a lifestyle probably similar to that of living albatrosses, extinct giant pellagornithids, with their very long and pointed wings, would have flown widely over ancient open seas, not yet dominated by whales and seals, in search of squid. , fish and other shellfish to catch with their beaks lined with sharp pseudo-everything, ”said Thomas Stidham of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
Large flying animals have periodically appeared on Earth.
First, there are the pterosaurs, which flapped their leather wings during the age of the dinosaurs and reached a wingspan of 33 feet (10 meters).
The Pelagornithids claimed the record for size in the Cenozoic and lived until about 2.5 million years ago, when they gave way to the teratornis (up to 3.4 meters), today also extinct.