Digging deeper into fossil seabirds from Kansas

Eighty-five million years ago, a seabird called Ichthyornis (which means “fish bird”) lived and died over the ocean that covered Kansas and much of central North America. With well-developed wings, hollow bones, and a body roughly the size and shape of a tern’s, Ichthyornis looked like modern birds and was clearly capable of flying. However, odd features like teeth illustrate the bird’s dinosaurian ancestry. A new study featuring Sternberg Museum fossils collected in western Kansas (and co-authored by the Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Laura Wilson) reveals just how similar and different Ichthyornis was to living birds. This research sheds new light on the details of its skeleton and supports previous hypotheses that Ichthyornis is very closely related to modern birds. The bones of forty different fossil specimens were studied, making these birds one of the better-known fossil bird species. With so many individual specimens, paleontologists can now start answering questions about how Ichthyornis lived its life and evolved as the Age of Dinosaurs came to a close.

Reconstruction of Ichthyornis seabird highlighting which bones were not previously known/described prior to the study, as well as bones with new information added.

This research was published in the open-access journal PeerJ and is available to anyone interested in reading more.   

Are you a Paleo Nerd?

In case you missed it, Dr. Laura Wilson was featured on the popular paleontology podcast Paleo Nerds in Spring 2021. Check out her interview (and the incredible splash page the Paleo Nerds team put together). Laura talks to Ray and Dave about the geology and ecology of the Western Interior Seaway – the ancient ocean that covered central North America 100-66 million years ago. Much of the information known about the animals and ecosystems in this Seaway comes from Wilson Paleo Lab research and the Sternberg Museum’s paleontology collections.

Paleo Nerds is hosted by paleoartist Ray Troll and ventriloquist David Strassman. Ray and David never lost their childhood enthusiasm for science and all things paleontology, and now share their enthusiasm through engaging interviews with paleontologists and science educators from around the world. Check out past podcasts for a spectacular line up!