Juvenile birds from the early Cretaceous of China : implications for enantiornithine ontogeny ; American Museum novitates, no. 3594

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New York, NY : American Museum of Natural History
Mesozoic remains of embryonic and early juvenile birds are rare. To date, a handful of in ovo embryos and early juveniles of enantiornithines from the early Cretaceous of China and Spain and the late Cretaceous of Mongolia and Argentina have comprised the entire published record of perinatal ontogenetic stages of Mesozoic birds. We report on the skeletal morphology of three nearly complete early juvenile avians from the renowned early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province in northeastern China. Evidence of the immaturity of these specimens is expressed in the intense grooving and pitting of the periosteal surfaces, the disproportionately small size of the sterna, and the relative size of the skull and orbits. Size notwithstanding, anatomical differences between these three specimens are minimal, leaving no basis for discriminating them into separate taxa. Numerous osteological synapomorphies indicate that they are euenantiornithine birds, the most diverse clade of Enantiornithes, but their identification as members of a particular euenantiornithine taxon remains unclear. Their early ontogenetic stage, however, provides important information about the postnatal development of this specious clade of Cretaceous birds. The presence of pennaceous wing feathers suggests that fledging occurred very early in ontogeny, thus supporting a precocial or highly precocial strategy for enantiornithine hatchlings. The morphology of these new early-stage juveniles is also significant in that they allow a better understanding of the homologies of several avian compound bones because the components of these skeletal compounds are preserved prior to their coossification. The general morphology of the wrist and ankle of these juveniles highlights once again the striking similarity between nonavian theropods and early birds.
46 p. : ill. (some col.), map ; 26 cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 41-46).