Fossil of 99 million-year-old bird with giant toe found in Burma

The fossilised remains of an ancient 99-million-year-old bird with a freakishly long toe have been discovered in a chunk of amber from Burma. 

Researchers found the third digit of the sparrow-like creature’s foot was 9.8 millimetres long, about 41 percent longer than its second-longest digit, and 20 percent longer than its entire lower leg, reported Science News. 

Paleontologists are unsure what purpose the extra-long toe served, but it may have helped the cretaceous period bird find food in difficult-to-reach places such as holes in trees. The bird may have been a tree-dweller, also using its extended claw to grasp on to branches. 

The formation of its foot was so unique that a team examining the fossil, led by paleontologist Lida Xing from the China University of Biosciences in Beijing, decided to declare a new species, calling the bird Elektorornis (amber bird) chenguangi. Their findings were published in Current Biology on Thursday.

The New York Times reported that the remains had lain undisturbed in hardened tree resin until amber miners found the fossil in Burma’s Hukawng Valley in 2014. 

It was first presented to Chen Guang, a curator at China’s Hupoge Amber Museum, and initially suspected to be an extinct lizard.  

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