Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Old bird, New World: Did the South American hoatzins originate in Europe?

Date:
January 22, 2014
Source:
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
Summary:
The oldest fossil discoveries from France show that hoatzins once existed in Europe.

Protoazin parisiensis and Opisthocomus hoazin.
Credit: © Senckenberg

The oldest fossil discoveries from France show that hoatzins once existed in Europe.

Where did hoatzins come from? These unusual birds, only one species of which exists in South America today, originated in the Old World. Studies of the oldest known fossils of Hoatzin ancestors have now shown that these birds existed around 34 million years ago in Europe. Paleornithologists at the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Flinders University in Adelaide published their findings this week in the specialist journal Naturwissenschaften.

The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is also known as the Stinkbird or Canje Pheasant and today exists only in parts of South America. Its relationship among birds is as unclear as its evolutionary history. Until recently, South America was considered to be the area of origin of these birds. Then, however, fossils from Africa were described, and new discoveries from Africa and Europe now prove conclusively that hoatzins reached South America from the Old World. A study published in January 2014 in the ornithological journal "The Auk" provided the very first evidence of largely modern Hoatzins from the Miocene (15 million years ago) in Africa.

The oldest fossils attributed to hoatzins were found more than 100 years ago near Paris. But only now have paleornithologists been able to show that these remains belong to ancestors of the modern Hoatzin. The fossils belong to a newly described species, Protoazin parisiensis ("proto-Hoatzin from Paris"). The re-interpretation of these bones indicates that hoatzins lived in Europe as early as the late Eocene, i.e. around 34 million years ago.

"This supports the theory that hoatzins originated in the Old World," says Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. In the opinion of Dr Vanesa De Pietri of Flinders University in Australia, it is "a further impressive example that the South American avian fauna contains numerous relicts that were once much more widespread."

Most notably, Hoatzins appear to have become extinct in Europe much earlier than in Africa, where the latest fossils were dated as of Miocene age (15 million years ago) and are thus only around half as old. The disappearance of these birds might be connected to a period when numerous new animal species migrated from Asia to Europe during the so-called "Grande Coupure" around 34 million years ago. These included tree-dwelling carnivorous mammals who may have posed a threat to hoatzin nestlings, which are raised in open nests. Because hoatzins can fly short distances only, the adult birds are also easy prey. In Africa, by contrast, similar tree-dwelling carnivorous mammals are shown to have existed much later.

Digestion specialist and climbing artist

The present-day Hoatzin exhibits a special mode of digestion. These herbivores pre-digest their food in this crop before further processing in the stomach and intestines. Similar to the rumen of a cow -- a digestive knack that has not been mastered by any other bird. Skeletal features show that Old World hoatzins already had a large crop. Another special feature of the Hoatzin are the claws on the wings of the chicks, which enable the hatchlings to climb trees.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Gerald Mayr, Vanesa L. De Pietri. Earliest and first Northern Hemispheric hoatzin fossils substantiate Old World origin of a “Neotropic endemic”. Naturwissenschaften, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00114-014-1144-8
  2. Gerald Mayr. A hoatzin fossil from the middle Miocene of Kenya documents the past occurrence of modern-type Opisthocomiformes in Africa. The Auk, 2014; 131 (1): 55 DOI: 10.1642/AUK-13-134.1

Cite This Page:

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Old bird, New World: Did the South American hoatzins originate in Europe?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122091738.htm>.
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. (2014, January 22). Old bird, New World: Did the South American hoatzins originate in Europe?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122091738.htm
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Old bird, New World: Did the South American hoatzins originate in Europe?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122091738.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Did Neanderthals Play Tic-Tac-Toe?

Did Neanderthals Play Tic-Tac-Toe?

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — Artwork found in a Gibraltar cave that was possibly done by Neanderthals suggests they may have been smarter than we all thought. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Millions Of Historical Public Domain Photos Added To Flickr

Millions Of Historical Public Domain Photos Added To Flickr

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — Historian Kalev Leetaru uploaded a large collection of historical photos, images that were previously difficult to collect. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — An international team uncovered a large ancient wine celler that likely belonged to a Cannonite ruler. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins