By Tim Binnall
Paleontologists have found what they say is the oldest known fossil of a modern bird and have dubbed the creature 'Wonderchicken.' According to a press release announcing the remarkable discovery, the animal is believed to have roamed the Earth around 66.7 million years ago based on the limestone in which the remains were found. This period of time is particularly interesting to experts as it was less than a million years before the infamous asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs.
"The origins of living bird diversity are shrouded in mystery," explained Albert Chen, who co-authored the research into the creature, "other than knowing that modern birds arose at some point towards the end of the age of dinosaurs, we have very little fossil evidence of them until after the asteroid hit." As such, Chen marveled that the discovery "provides our earliest direct glimpse of what modern birds were like during the initial stages of their evolutionary history."
To that end, scientists say that the newfound creature likely resembled a combination of contemporary chickens and ducks. The fossilized bones of the bird indicate that it probably resided along shorelines and it was about the size of the smallest duck found on Earth today, the green-winged teal. While the research team nicknamed the curious creature 'Wonderchicken,' its scientific name is Asteriornis maastrichtensis after the Greek goddess of falling stars (Asteriornis) and the location where it was found around the Belgian-Dutch border.