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Researchers Announce Discovery Of Skulls Of Bizarre Animals Showing Advanced,,Stage In Transition Between Dinosaurs And Birds

the animal was capable of "prokinesis," the movement of the snout up and down independently of the rest of the skull. This allowed the animal to open its mouth quite wide in order to eat large food items. The diet of Shuvuuia deserti is not known, but may have included insects, as well as lizards and even small mammals. Prokinesis is considered a very advanced characteristic of birds - to find evidence of this characteristic in such a primitive bird is surprising and indicates that this ability actually arose early in bird evolution.

A detailed analysis of its anatomical features shows that Shuvuuia deserti and all other Alavarezsauridea are the most primitive known fossil birds with the exception of the famous Archaeopteryx, discovered in 1861. Ironically, while Archaeopteryx is more primitive, it fits the stereotypical conception of a bird much better than the more advanced Shuvuuia deserti. The new discovery illustrates the complexity of the evolution of birds and hints at the number of surprises yet to be uncovered in tracing the development of their lineage.

The authors of the Nature paper are: Luis M. Chiappe, Chapman Fellow and research associate in the Museum's Department of Ornithology; Mark A. Norell, chairman and curator in the Museum's Department of Vertebrate Paleontology; and James M. Clark, the Ronald Weintraub Assistant Professor of Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, George Washington University.

In addition to support from the American Museum of Natural History, the Gobi Expedition is supported by Mercedes-Benz, which is the principal sponsor of the Museum's 1997, 1998, and 1999 expeditions to Mongolia, providing both financial support and vehicles for use by the expedition team. The Gobi project is also supported by the National Science Foundation and the Jaffe Foundation.

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For further information and images, contact Elizabeth Chapman, Department of Communications, 212-769
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Contact: Elizabeth Chapman
chapman@amnh.org
212-769-5800
American Museum of Natural History
19-Mar-1998


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