Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

World’s oldest modern hummingbirds described in Science

07.05.2004


The world’s oldest known modern hummingbird fossils have been discovered in Germany. The tiny skeletons are also the first modern-type hummingbird fossils ever found in the Old World. These creatures, with strikingly similar resemblances to today’s hummingbirds, lived in present-day Germany more than 30 million year ago. Although hummingbirds are currently restricted to the Americas, their long-extinct Old World "look-alikes" may have helped determine the shape of some Asian and African flowers alive today. These findings appear in the 07 May, 2004 issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the non-profit science society.


Cinnamon hummingibrd (Amazilla rutila) feeding on Ipomoea neei (Convolvulaceae) in Mexico. The Cinnamon hummingbird measures about 11 cm (tip of beak to tip of tail) and is only slightly larger than the fossil.
[Image © J. Ferdinand]



"This is the oldest convincing record of modern-type hummingbirds," said Gerald Mayr, a zoologist from Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, a natural history museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

The extinct European hummingbirds were endowed with long, nectar-sucking beaks and wings designed for feeding while hovering, Mayr explained.


Mayr named the new hummingbird species Eurotrochilus inexpectatus, which means an "unexpected European version of Trochilus." Trochilus is the name of a modern hummingbird genus.

The discovery of modern hummingbirds in Europe begs the question, "What kinds of flowers did they feed on?"

In an attempt to answer this question, Mayr suggests that you can see the Old World hummingbirds’ evolutionary wake in certain plants growing in Africa and Asia today, including a species of Impatiens. Hummingbirds and some Old World plants may have evolved together, to suit each other’s needs.

This process of coevolution could explain the beak-friendly flowers that grow without perches, a design perfect for hummingbirds, on continents without these hovering birds. When hummingbirds disappeared from the Old World, insects like long-tongued bees could have taken over their pollination duties, Mayr speculates.

The next-oldest, modern hummingbird fossils are from South America and are only about one million years old, Mayr explained. With this new discovery, the fossil record for modern hummingbirds leaps back approximately 29 million years and zips halfway around the world.

The pair of four-centimeter-long skeletons, unearthed near the village of Frauenweiler in southern Germany, provides a glimpse into the lives of birds that died near a sea that dried up long ago. Scientists have recovered other land birds as well as marine birds, turtles, large sharks, bats and many plants from the same general area and time period.

"It’s fun to study species from this time period in Earth’s history, the early Oligocene, because some of the species begin resemble modern species," Mayr explained.

Three of the key features that give the skeletons modern hummingbird characteristics are their tiny size, the design of the shoulder and upper arm bone, and their long beaks, which are 2.5 times larger than their craniums even though the tips of the beaks are lost.

Details from their shoulder joints and upper arm bones suggest that the birds rotated their wings like today’s hummingbirds.

"The tip of the wing makes a figure 8," Mayr explained.

This wing motion allows hummingbirds to hover in front of the flower and eliminates the need for a perch.

"The remainder of the skeleton is also very hummingbird-like," Mayr said.

Mayr noted, however, that today’s hummingbirds have even more specialized hovering design.

These ancient hummingbirds grew to about the size of the Rufous-breasted Hermit Glaucis, a hummingbird from South America. While scientists have not recovered equally ancient, modern-type hummingbird fossils from South America, Mayr suspects that primitive hummingbirds lived in both Old and New World.

The question of when and why hummingbirds disappeared from Europe and other parts of the Old World, but not in the Americas, has no clear answer. Mayr, however, suspects ecological competition with other birds or with insects.



The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS

Ginger Pinholster | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.aaas.org

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>