FROM THE EDUCATION DESK
April Trivia: April is named for Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love. Noah Webster copyrighted the first edition of his dictionary in the month of April. Leonardo da Vinci and William Shakespeare were both born in this month with Shakespeare also dying in April at age 52. The birthstone of April is the diamond and April’s special flowers are the Daisy and the Sweet Pea.
Every hawk, sparrow, pigeon and penguin alive today has ancestral roots dating back to the Jurassic, when the first birds were just another form of raptor-like dinosaur. Dozens of fossils uncovered and described during the last three decades have brought out much of this history. One such fossil is the 120 million year old Fukuipteryx prima, discovered in Japan in 2013, and described by Fukui Prefectural University paleontologist Takuya Imai. Numerous birds of similar geologic age have been named in the past few decades but the details of this fossil and where it was found is quite remarkable.
Small bodies and hollow bones have made birds relatively rare finds in the fossil record. Only a few unique fossil deposits, like China’s 125 million year old Jehol Biota or the United States 50 million year Green River Formation, have allowed paleontologists to get a good look at ancient birds. The skeleton of this bird is preserved in three dimension and are close to their shape in life and have not been compressed over time. The team had hoped for fragments and instead got most of a well preserved skeleton. The fossils in Jehol Biota were smashed and look like bony pancakes. This fossil offers experts a clear look at skeletal anatomy during the Early Cretaceous. Fukuipteryx looks very similar to some of the earliest birds that evolved about 30 million years earlier during the Jurassic. Fingers ending in claws is a trait this bird shares with Archaeopteryx. It had a short tail with a bony structure (pygostyle), this is an anchor point for muscle and tail feathers seen in modern birds. Imai, along with the rest of the team, feels it is the most primitive among the Early Cretaceous birds. “I feel it is merely one of many currently unknown birds awaiting to be discovered in the future outside of China” says Imai.
We have all been going through a very difficult time all over the world and we are hoping and trying our best to help each other and stay well. The museum is closed at this time so that we may do our part in seeing that we can help end this virus.