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Scientists have recently discovered a perfectly preserved skeleton in Argentina. The fossil belongs to the Llallawavis scagliai specimen and is so intact that the team can study how these prehistoric terror birds communicated.
The Llallawavis scagliai was first described in the recent edition of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The newly discovered fossil is about 90 percent intact which makes it the most undamaged fossil of its kind.
Terror birds are a family of extinct carnivorous flightless birds that lived in South America during the Cenozoic period, so about 3.5 million years ago. While some species of terror birds could grow to become 10-feet tall, L. scagliai was generally about four feet tall.
Taking into consideration that bird fossils are usually found in a damaged state, finding one that is almost completely intact is nothing short of a miracle. Bird bones have a light structure and are hollow so they can be easily broken and can’t always withstand the passing of time. The team will now be able to analyze aspects they couldn’t have up until now. As lead author Federico Degrange explained:
“There are few places where delicate bones, such as those of birds, remain as beautifully preserved as Llallawavis.”
He explains that this fossil will offer scientists the opportunity to study “finer anatomic functions” and fragile bone structures such as the sclerotic rings which birds and dinosaurs used in order to focus by modifying the shape of the cornea.
The team was also impressed to see that even the windpipe and the auditory region of the skull were preserved. This means that Degrange’s team can now focus on understanding how the bird communicated.
They found that L. scagliai probably used low-frequency sounds to “talk” to each other.
According to Ohio University paleontologist Lawrence Witmer, a specialist in the field of functional anatomy of extinct animals explained that this rare intact specimen can help with the studies of other matters such as “speed and style of locomotion”. As he explains:
“A specimen this nice really opens a window into the past, giving us a much clearer view of what terror birds were really like.”
Besides shedding light on the way terror birds lived, hunted and communicated, such fossils can also give clues regarding how these prehistoric animals died, including the factors that led to their extinction.
Image Source: The Christian Science Monitor