Oldest fossil tropicbird found

Monday, 30 November 2015

Mayr, G and Scofield P 2015. New avian remains from the Paleocene of New Zealand: the first early Cenozoic Phaethontiformes (tropicbirds) from the Southern Hemisphere. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2015.1031343.

Tropicbird Brent Stephenson Eco Vista

Tropicbird. Image credit: Brent Stephenson@ Eco Vista.

Here we report on new avian fossils from the Waipara Greensand. Although these bones, a partial humerus and a partial carpometacarpus, again are very fragmentary, they show distinctive morphologies that allow their referral to the Phaethontiformes (tropicbirds).

The humeral shaft and carpometacarpus were collected in situ from the Waipara Greensand on the true left bank of the Waipara River in late January 2014. Other parts of the humerus stem from immediately below the site in the erosional debris fan. Both bones are from the same side of the body and are of matching size, which corresponds to that of Phaethon lepturus, the smallest extant tropicbird species.

Given the extreme rarity of avian remains in the Waipara Greensand, we are confident that both bones are from the same individual. The Paleocene marine sediments of the Waipara Greensand in New Zealand are well known for the earliest published fossil penguin species, Waimanu manneringi Jones, Ando, and Fordyce, 2006, and W. tuatahi Ando, Jones, and Fordyce, 2006 (Slack et al., 2006; Ando, 2007), but have also yielded fossils of a few non-sphenisciform avian taxa. Among these is a tarsometatarsus of unknown affinities (Ksepka and Cracraft, 2008) and the recently described Australornis lovei Mayr and Scofield, 2014, another bird of uncertain phylogenetic relationships that is based on fragmentary wing and pectoral girdle bones (Mayr and Scofield, 2014).

See our media release here.