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North America once hosted a relative of the ostrich

By
Brooks Hays
Researchers say the ancient ostrich relative found in North America looked more like a chicken. Photo by Sterling Nesbitt/Virginia Tech
Researchers say the ancient ostrich relative found in North America looked more like a chicken. Photo by Sterling Nesbitt/Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va., July 5 (UPI) -- A relative of the modern ostrich once strutted across North America.

Scientists have identified the bones of a 50 million-year-old fossil -- recovered a decade ago from an ancient lake bed in Wyoming -- as belonging to a relative of the famed flightless African bird species.

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"This is among one of the earliest well-represented bird species after the age of large dinosaurs," researcher Sterling Nesbitt, an assistant professor of geoscience at Virginia Tech, said in a news release.

Scientists named the new species Calciavis grandei. They suggest the ancient ostrich relative looked more like a chicken, mostly walking along the ground, flapping its wings only in short bursts to escape predators.

The lake bed from which the fossil was unearthed is famous for producing immaculately preserved whole fish skeletons, but it has also yielded impressive bird, mammal and reptile fossils.

Two Calciavis grandei fossils have been recovered from the lake, dated between 56 million and 30 million years old.

"The new bird shows us that the bird group that includes the largest flightless birds of today had a much wider distribution and longer evolutionary history in North America," Nesbitt added. "Back when Calciavis was alive, it lived in a tropical environment that was rich with tropical life and this is in stark contrast to the high-desert environment in Wyoming today."

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Researchers described the new species in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

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