Monster Ducks

Another monster from the Great Age of Monsters!

An article in the journal Pal­ae­on­tol­ogy for 26 September describes the skull of a monstrous prehistoric seabird dated as some 50 million years old. The bird is interesting in being the size of a small airplane and having a mouth full of unbird-like spiky teeth. It is known as Da­sor­nis, a bony-toothed bird, or pela­gor­nithid, and was disco­vered in the Lon­don Clay that underlies much of Lon­don, Essex and north­ern Kent in south­east­ern UK.

Artist impression of Dasornis

“By to­day’s stan­dards these were pret­ty bi­zarre an­i­mals, but per­haps the strang­est thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like pro­jec­tions along the cut­ting edges of the beak,” said Ger­ald Mayr of the Ger­man Senck­en­berg Re­search In­sti­tute and au­thor of the re­port.

With a wingspan of some 15 foot (five metres), Dasornis is similar in habits to the Albatross but 40 percent bigger.

Said Mayr:

No liv­ing birds have true teeth—which are made of enam­el and den­tine—be­cause their dis­tant an­ces­tors did away with them more than 100 mil­lion years ago, probably to save weight and make fly­ing eas­ier.

But the bon­y-toothed birds, like Da­sor­nis, are un­ique among birds in that they rein­vented tooth-like structures by evolv­ing these bony spikes.

These birds probably skimmed across the sur­face of the sea, snap­ping up fish and squid on the wing. With only an or­di­nary beak these would have been dif­fi­cult to keep hold of, and the pseudo-teeth evolved to prevent meals slip­ping away.

Seems like a rather dodgy description of the evolutionary process to me, especially coming from a scientist — but I know what he meant.

  • Source: World Science
  • The picture is an artist’s impression of Dasornis emuinus. (Sen­cken­berg Re­search In­sti­tute and Na­tur­al His­tory Mu­seum)
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