The bony tongue of the newly-identified enantiornithine chicken species, Brevirostruavis macrohyoideus, was almost so long as its head.
Brevirostruavis macrohyoideus lived alongside dinosaurs in what’s now northeastern China some 120 million years in the past (Early Cretaceous interval).
The chicken had a comparatively brief beak, small peg-shaped enamel, and an especially elongate bony hyoid equipment (tongue bones).
It belongs to Enantiornithes, essentially the most various group of birds identified within the Cretaceous interval.
“We see a lot of variation in the size and shape of the skulls of enantiornithine birds and that probably reflects the great diversity of the foods they ate and how they caught their food,” stated Dr. Min Wang, a researcher with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“Now with this fossil, we see that it’s not just their skulls, but their tongues that also vary.”
The well-preserved skeleton of Brevirostruavis macrohyoideus was recovered from the Jiufotang Formation in Xiaotaizi village, Liaoning province, China.
“This extinct short-beaked, big-tongued bird is the earliest example of a bird being able to stick its tongue out.” the paleontologists stated.
“Of course, this feature makes one wonder why this bird would be sticking its tongue out.”
“We hypothesize that Brevirostruavis macrohyoideus might have used this feature for catching insects in the same way that living woodpeckers use their tongues to get insects out of holes in bark, wood, and tree branches.”
“Alternatively, the bird might have been feeding on pollen or nectar-like liquids from plants in the forest where it lived.”
“Animals experiment evolutionarily with what they have available,” added Dr. Thomas Stidham, a researcher with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“This bird evolved a long tongue using the bones it inherited from its dinosaur ancestors, and living birds evolved longer tongues with the bones that they have.”
“This situation demonstrates the power of evolution, with birds using two different evolutionary pathways to solve the same problem of making a long tongue to stick out of their mouths.”
The workforce’s paper was revealed within the Journal of Anatomy.
Zhiheng Li et al. Novel evolution of a hyper-elongated tongue in a Cretaceous enantiornithine from China and the evolution of the hyolingual equipment and feeding in birds. Journal of Anatomy, revealed on-line December 1, 2021; doi: 10.1111/joa.13588