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:
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy