A Chinese researcher said his team has discovered the fossil of the world's earliest bird from the late Mesozoic stratum in Fengning Man Autonomous County of north China's Hebei Province.
Ji Qiang, a research fellow with the Geology Institute under the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, said that the fossilized Jinfengopteryx elegans is more primitive than the archaeopteryx, previously considered the world's earliest bird, which was discovered in southern Germany in 1861.
Ji and his colleagues have been studying the 54.8-centimeter-long fossil of Jinfengopteryx elegans since its was discovered in Fengning county, about 120 kilometers north of Beijing, in July last year.
Ji said, they found feathers attached to the whole body of the bird, which has a triangular-shaped head and 36 smooth teeth inside the short beak. The fossil consists of 12 sections of cervical vertebrae, 11 sections of spine vertebrae and 23 sections of caudal vertebrae. The bird's tail is 27.3 centimeters long, or about 50 percent of its total length.
Ji said Wednesday that several factors have lead to their conclusion. The Jinfengopteryx elegans' hind legs are longer than its forelimbs while the German bird has hind legs and forelimbs of almost the same length. Also their bid has more and taller teeth than the one discovered in Germany.
Based on their research on 205 characteristics of Jinfengopteryx elegans, Ji and his colleagues concluded that the Chinese bird and the German bird belong to species of sisterly relations.
Ji said, the fossil of Jinfengopteryx elegans also provide evidence for the cursorial hypothesis about the origin of avian flight.
There are now two theories about the origin of bird flight, a hot topic for paleontologists around the globe. One is the cursorial hypothesis, which says that birds obtained flying ability in the process of running and leaping. The arboreal hypothesis says that birds acquired the unique skill of fluttering and soaring first through gliding down from tall trees.