Baby Bird Fossil Sheds Light on Evolution

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Again researchers have discovered sensational in the pit Messel near Darmstadt. This time, they are not primeval horses or primates – but the oldest vertebrate fat in the world.

Scientists have found in the World Heritage fossil mine Grube Messel near Darmstadt, the oldest known fat of vertebrates. The pesticle of a 48-million-year-old bird fossil contained oil for preening, said the project manager of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Gerald Mayr.

Normally, organic material decomposes within years or decades. So far, no older fat from birds, mammals, fish, reptiles or amphibians is known, says Mayr – but it has just not been specifically sought after. “I noticed this formation on the tail of the birds 20 years ago, and I’ve always wondered if this is not something other than bone.”

“How extremely hard wax”
In a small, hop-like bird, which was found a few years ago in the pit Messel east of Darmstadt, he had the substance now examined. It was actually fat. The consistency is very firm, reports Mayr, “like extremely hard wax”.

Birds grease their plumage with the oil of the pancreas to make it more supple and water-repellent. In the Messel pit, the fat probably formed a wax tank under oxygen exclusion, which protected it from decay. In addition, the bird care oil contains antibacterial ingredients that may prevent initial bacterial decomposition. “The find is one of the most amazing examples of conservation of soft tissue in animals,” said Mayr.

Together with the now examined, about 20 more birds were rescued in the pit Messel. Mayr suggests that they are also found in these fat remnants.

World Heritage Site and Treasure Chest for Researchers
The Messel pit is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most important fossil sites. In addition to fossils of vertebrates, the pit also contains fossils of primeval plants and insects.

More than 70 primeval horses, the primate “Ida” and many other important finds from the time 47 million years ago, the oil shale in the pit has already revealed.

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