This extinct bird boasted dinosaur-like teeth

fossil dino like bird skull
Scientists used fossils of an ancient toothed bird (illustrated at right) to make a 3-D reconstruction of its skull (left). They discovered the animal had a small beak at the tip of its snout.

A bird that lived alongside dinosaurs may have used its beak to preen its feathers, as modern birds do. But it also had a full mouth of teeth. These let it chew like a dino. The finding provides new clues to how birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Scientists made a new 3-D reconstruction of the skull of Ichthyornis (Ick-thee-OR-nis) dispar. This bird lived during the Late Cretaceous, some 87 million to 82 million years ago. The new reconstruction shows this creature had a small, primitive beak. Its upper jaw would have moved around easily. Such traits would have let the bird use its beak to precisely groom itself and grab things, much as modern birds do. But I. dispar also kept some features from its dino ancestors. These included teeth and strong jaw muscles.

This ancient bird shows up often in textbooks. Paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh first described the animal some 150 years ago. It was a water bird, similar to a tern. Much like a duck, its wings spanned about 60 centimeters (24 inches). The shape of those wings and its breastbone suggested this bird could fly.

Another famous fossil flyer is Archaeopteryx (Ar-kee-OP-tur-ix). This extinct reptile lived about 70 million years before I. dispar. Archaeopteryx had a more reptilian skull, notes Bhart-Anjan Bhullar. He’s a vertebrate paleontologist at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. With a beak and fairly large head, the skull of I. dispar much better resembles those in modern birds, he says.

Several skulls of I. dispar existed at various museums. Still, there was much science didn’t know about these birds, Bhullar says. One reason: Fossils dug up in the…

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