An ancient bird found encased in amber had a bizarrely long toe

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There once was a little bird, smaller than a sparrow, that lived about 99 million years ago. And it had a freakishly long toe.

Researchers found the ancient birds right leg and foot preserved in a chunk of amber. Its third digit is 9.8 millimeters long, about 41 percent longer than its second-longest digit — and 20 percent longer than its entire lower leg. This foot morphology is unique among any known bird species, whether modern or Mesozoic, the team reports online July 11 in Current Biology. Although its not clear what purpose the extra-long toe served, the digit may have helped the bird find food in hard-to-reach places, such as through a hole in a tree.

The team, led by paleontologist and frequent amber-fossil finder Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, compared the toe size ratios of the fossilized bird with those of 20 other birds that lived during Mesozoic, the era that spans between 252 million and 66 million years ago, as well as with toe size ratios of 62 living species. Although some modern tree-dwelling birds do have elongated third digits, none of the other birds living or extinct have quite such a dramatic difference in toe sizes, the team found.

Determining the bird to be a new species, the team named it Elektorornis chenguangi — using the prefix elektor, meaning amber in Greek, and Read More – Source

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