Palaeontologists have discovered fossil remains in Scandinavia of parrots dating back 55 million years. Reported today in the current issue of the journal Palaeontology, the fossils indicate that parrots once flew wild over what is now Norway and Denmark.
Parrots today live only in the tropics and southern hemisphere, but this new research, which was supported by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) and University College Dublin (UCD), suggests that they first evolved in the North, much earlier than had been thought.
The fossil parrot was discovered on the Isle of Mors in the northwest of Denmark – far from where you’d normally expect to find a parrot. It’s a new species, officially named 'Mopsitta tanta'. However, already its nick-name is the ‘Danish Blue Parrot’, a term derived from a famous comedy sketch about a 'Norwegian Blue Parrot' in the 1970s BBC television programme ‘Monty Python’. (video link to sketch below)
The Scandinavian connection makes links to Monty Python’s notoriously demised bird irresistible, but the parallels go further. The famous sketch revolves around establishing that a bird purchased by John Cleese is a dead parrot, and in dealing with these fossils, palaeontologists were faced with the same problem.
As Dr David Waterhouse, lead author of the paper, explains: “Obviously, we are dealing with a bird that is bereft of life, but the tricky bit is establishing that it was a parrot. As with many fragile bird fossils, it is a wonder that anything remains at all, and all that remains of this early Danish parrot is a single upper wing bone (humerus). But, this small bone contains characteristic features that show that it is clearly from a member of the parrot family, about the size of a Yellow-crested Cockatoo.”
Dr David Waterhouse was funded by a UCD postgraduate scholarship from 2002 to 2006. He is currently Assistant Curator of Natural History at Norfolk Museums Service. Dr Bent Lindow was an IRCSET ‘Basic Research Grant’ scholar at UCD and the University of Copenhagen from 2004 to 2007. He is currently postdoctoral researcher in palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.
At around 55 million years old, this is very much an ex-parrot. Indeed, Mopsitta represents the oldest and most northerly convincing remains of a parrot ever to have been discovered.
Waterhouse continues: “It isn’t as unbelievable as you might at first think that a parrot was found so far north. When Mopsitta was alive, most of Northern Europe was experiencing a warm period, with a large shallow tropical lagoon covering much of Germany, South East England and Denmark. We have to remember that this was only 10 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out, and some strange things were happening with animal life all over the planet.”
“No Southern Hemisphere fossil parrot has been found older than about 15 million years old, so this new evidence suggests that parrots evolved right here in the Northern Hemisphere before diversifying further South in the tropics later on.”
So was Danish Mopsitta “pinin’ for the fjords”? “It’s a lovely image,” says Waterhouse, “but we can say with certainty that it was not. This parrot shuffled off its mortal coil around 55 million years ago, but the fjords of Norway were formed during the last ice age and are less than a million years old.”To view the famous 'Monty Python' sketch, please visit:
Less radiation in inner Van Allen belt than previously believed
21.03.2017 | DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Mars volcano, Earth's dinosaurs went extinct about the same time
21.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
23.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences