New bird fossil may show why they outlived other dinosaurs

New bird fossil may show why they outlived other dinosaurs
Representative Image: Pexel

Researchers from the US have discovered a new bird fossil that shows a unique brain shape that may have been the reason why the ancestors of living birds survived the mass extinction. Although, the same extinction had claimed all other known dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

A team of scientists from the University of Texas at Austin, the US, discovered the fossil, nearly 70 million years old. It has a nearly complete skull. This remains a rare occurrence in the fossil record that allowed scientists to compare ancient birds to birds living today.

These findings were published in the journal Science Advances. The fossil is a new specimen of a bird named Ichthyornis. These birds went extinct at the same time as other non-avian dinosaurs. They lived in what is now Kansas during the late Cretaceous period.

Ichthyornis has a blend of avian and non-avian dinosaur-like characteristics. It includes jaws full of teeth but tipped with a beak.

Study of Birds’ Brain

It is believed that living birds have brains more complex than any known animals except mammals. And this new fossil lets the researchers test the idea that those brains played a major role in their survival.

Bird skulls wrap tightly around their brains. With CT-imaging data, the researchers used the skull of Ichthyornis like a mold to create a 3D replica of its brain called an endocast.

It was found that the brain of Ichthyornis had more in common with non-avian dinosaurs than living birds.

Moreover, the cerebral hemispheres, the place where higher cognitive functions such as speech, thought and emotion occur in humans are found to be much bigger in living birds than in Ichthyornis.

The study indicates that these functions could be connected to surviving the mass extinction.

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