Saturday, May 31, 2014

Petrified pollinator

Yet another amazing fossil has emerged from Germany's Messel Pit: the remains of a tiny bird 3" (8 cm) long. Although hummingbirds date back only 30 million to 34 million years, this even older bird – an extinct species known as Pumiliornis tessellatus – was also a pollinator. The bird was discovered and studied by a team led by ornithologist Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute of Frankfurt, and was equipped with feet built for clinging to branches and a long, slender beak with a large opening. The fossil offers the oldest direct evidence of bird pollination because he found hundreds of grains of flower pollen in its little belly. Paleobotanist David Dilcher of Indiana University calls it a "handshake…across the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom...from 47 million years ago."

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