An old bird that lived 99 million years ago had freaky third toes that were even longer than its lower legs.
Researchers discovered the bird's foot with a & # 39; hyper-stretched & # 39; third toe preserved in amber found in Myanmar around 2014.
Based on their scans and analysis of the foot, they suggest that the bird – which was smaller than a sparrow – may have used its toes to crochet food from tree trunks.
This discovery represents the first time that such a bizarre foot structure has been observed with each bird, either extinct or alive.
Scroll down for video
An old bird that lived 99 million years ago had freaky third toes that were even longer than its lower legs. Depicted, an artist's impression of the bird, Elektorornis chenguangi
WHAT IS AMBER?
The golden translucent substance is formed when resin from extinct conifers is hardened and then fossilized.
Amber has been used in jewelry for thousands of years.
It is often found that it contains remarkably well-preserved materials from times long ago.
Insects, other creatures, plant material and pollen often got stuck in the resin.
These were then buried within the amber after it had solidified.
Paleontologist Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and his colleagues investigated the bird by scanning the amber and making a three-dimensional reconstruction of the foot of the fossil creature.
& # 39; I was very surprised to see the amber & # 39 ;, said Professor Xing.
& # 39; It shows that old birds were much more diverse than we thought. They had developed many different functions to adapt to their environment. & # 39;
The researchers discovered that the bird's third toe – measured at 0.38 inches (9.8 millimeters) – is 41 percent longer than the second toe.
The whimsical figure is even 20 percent longer than the bird's lower leg, the so-called tarsometatarsus.
The team compared these ratios with those of 62 live birds and 20 other extinct birds from the same era.
They discovered that none of these birds has a foot that looks like this one a.
Researchers have named the bird Elektorornis chenguangi, with the first part of its name & # 39; amber bird & # 39; means
Elektorornis belongs to an extinct group of birds, the Enantiornithes, the most common bird species from the Mesozoic.
Experts believe that Enantiornithines all died out during the so-called extinction of the Cretaceous Paleogen event around 66 million years ago, famous for killing the dinosaurs.
The Enantiornithies have no living descendants.
Based on their scans and analysis of the foot, they suggest that the bird – smaller than a sparrow – may have used its toes to crochet food from tree trunks
Based on their analysis of the fossil, the researchers estimate that Elektorornis was smaller than a sparrow and lived tree-like – meaning it spent most of its time in trees, as opposed to on the ground or in water.
& # 39; Elongated toes are something that you often see with tree-dwelling animals, because they must be able to grasp these branches and wrap their toes around them & # 39 ;, said co-author and paleontologist Jingmai O & # 39 Connor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
& # 39; But this extreme difference in toe lengths, as far as we know, has never been seen before. & # 39;
The amber in which the base was stored – which is approximately 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) long and weighs 5.5 grams – was found around 2014 in the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar.
During the Mesozoic, the valley was full of trees that produced resin – the sticky substance that shines from tree bark and can eventually turn into amber.
Plants and small animals – geckos and spiders for example – often get caught in resin and solidify in the amber and keep them for millions of years.
Scientists have discovered many extinct amber animals from this valley, including the oldest known bee and a dinosaur tail with feathers.
Researchers discovered the bird's foot with a & # 39; hyper-stretched & # 39; third toe preserved in amber found in Myanmar around 2014
Professor Xing obtained the amber with Elektorornis from a local trader, who did not know which animal was the foot.
& # 39; Some traders thought it was a lizard foot, because lizards tend to have long toes & # 39 ;, said Professor Xing.
& # 39; Although I have never seen a bird's claw that looks like this, I know it is a bird. & # 39;
& # 39; Like most birds, this foot has four toes, while lizards have five. & # 39;
The only other well-known animal with disproportionately long figures is the aye-aye – a lemur that uses its long middle fingers to fish larvae and insects from tree trunks.
Researchers think that Elektorornis may have used his toe for a similar purpose.
The only other animal with disproportionately long figures is the aye-aye, depicted in the impression of this artist, who uses his long middle fingers to fish larvae and insects from tree trunks.
& # 39; This is the best bet we have. There is no bird with a similar morphology that can be considered as a modern analogue for this fossil bird, & # 39; said Dr. O & # 39; Connor.
& # 39; Many old birds probably did totally different things than live birds. & # 39;
& # 39; This fossil reveals another ecological niche that these early birds were experimenting as they developed. & # 39;
With their initial study completed, the research team hopes to extract proteins and pigments from some of the feathers of birds exposed to the surface of the amber.
Analyzing these chemicals can help researchers better understand the bird's other adaptations to its environment, such as whether it has plumage that camouflages it, Professor Xing said.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Current biology.
. (TagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) sciencetech