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Nearly complete fossil skull of the new albatross species (above) in comparison to the Black-footed Albatross, one of the smallest extant albatrosses (below). Credit: Jean-Claude Stahl, Te Papa.
Senckenberg ornithologist Gerald Mayr, in conjunction with his colleague Alan Tennyson of the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand, describe a previously unknown, extinct albatross species from the Pliocene. The bird, which lived about 3 million years ago, only reached approximately 90 percent of the size of the smallest modern albatrosses. However, the fossil's most remarkable trait is the unusually narrow beak, which suggests that the new species mainly fed on fish. The diet of modern albatrosses, by contrast, is dominated by squid. The fossil discovery thus indicates a higher diversity in the feeding ecology of extinct albatrosses and raises the question why the fish-eating forms ultimately went extinct. The study is published today in the scientific journal Ibis.
Albatrosses - Size - Species - Wingspan - Meters
Extant albatrosses are known for their considerable size: the largest species reach a wingspan of more than 3 meters. However, while living albatrosses are among the most iconic pelagic birds, little is known about the evolutionary history of these characteristic flyers, and fossils are extremely rare.
The new species, described as Aldiomedes angustirostris, is represented by an almost completely preserved skull that was discovered in 2011 by a private collector in the Tangahoe Formation on New Zealand's North Island. The marine sediments of this fossil site are known for their rich Pliocene fauna.
"The new species we described is clearly smaller than all modern...
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