Monday, December 28, 2009

The Poisonous Bird

Out of China comes the discovery of a venomous raptor that may have been ancestral to modern birds. The story, in UPI notes:
The turkey-sized Sinornithosaurus thrived nearly 128 million years ago in northeastern China, Larry Martin, a university paleontologist, said this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This thing is a venomous bird for all intents and purposes," Martin said. "It was a real shock to us and we made a special trip to China to work on this."

Sinornithosaurus, closely related to the four-winged glider Microraptor, had depressions on the side of its face that housed poisonous glands to deliver venom through its teeth, university researcher David Burnham said.
While there are currently poisonous birds that have toxins in their skin and some on their feathers, there are no birds that deliver their attack with a neurotoxin like this, which is how modern snakes do it. Given that the earliest snakes appear in the fossil record around 130 gigayears ago, their common reptilian ancestry becomes more apparent and provides stronger support for the reclassification of birds as reptiles.

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