The largest bird that has ever flown in our world is the pelagornithid. This species liver around 50 million years ago and had a wingspan so long that even an albatross would get lost in their shadow. There are pelagornithid fossils found all over the world and they are not particularly rare. Yet recently a new pelagornithid discovery got scientists pretty excited.
The reason was that this pelagornithid was far larger than paleontologists expected. The oldest pelagornithid flew approximately 56 million years ago while the most recent flew over 2 million years ago. The bone found appeared to date back about 50 million years and was clearly a part of the jawbone.
The jawbone of a pelagornithid is easy to distinguish because they have an incredibly long jaw with sharp teeth coming out. However, their bones actually form part of the teeth with some keratin on top to allow them to be used. This makes the teeth incredibly strong and almost like a hacksaw.
When they compared the fossil with other pelagornithid findings they realized that this jaw bone was larger than any they had seen before. They had just found the largest pelagornithid that ever existed. Even more interesting was that because it dated back to 50 million years it changed experts’ understanding of how the pelagornithid line developed. It appears that giant pelagornithids, which this is, appeared earlier in history than they realized.
This large bird also fascinated scientists because until this point scientists argued that the largest bird found was likely the largest that could be found. Any larger and it probably would not have the right body shape and weight to be able to fly. Yet when the new fossils showed up it blew that theory out of the water. Here was evidence of an even larger bird that also flew. Scientists had just found the largest flying bird that ever existed and it defied their beliefs.
The pelagornithid wings likely had a wingspan of over 20 feet meaning that it could soar through the air for great distances. This likely explains why its remains can be found all over the world, it was an adept traveler.
The new fossils are the oldest ever found of a pelagornithid and come right after the period in history where a large asteroid wiped out many of the living things on Earth. The fossils come from the Antarctic and show that there the pelagornithid was thriving. Over the next six million years evolution would take place and a variety of different sized pelagornithids have been discovered all over the world, clearly adjusting and evolving to suit the needs of their new environments.
The pelagornithid is just one of a constant stream of new discoveries that are taking place that is forcing us to not only redefine our view of history but our view of what is capable in this world. We are so restricted by our current perspective that it is incredibly difficult to understand that some animals or species may have done things differently.
Scientists quickly shrugged away the possibility of a larger flying bird and then this discovery came along and erased all of their opinions with fact. While something may seem impossible or improbable it may just be our perspective of how things can be done. Perhaps this bird’s feathers are made from a lighter material or it is even more aerodynamic. Whatever the explanation, it is big and it can fly.
Clearly even in times of constrained budgets and economic squeeze we can not forget our history. We must continue to try to learn from past mistakes so that we can be more successful in the future. If we do this, our future could be secured.