General, Research, Technology

Where did modern hens and ducks come from?

Every modern animal has a distantan ancestor who lived millions of years ago. For example, amphibians like frogs evolved from the so-called elpistostegs, who were the first to get real fingers and learn how to use them. But the ancestor of modern hens and ducks is an ancient creature, which in the scientific community is still called Asteriornis maastrichtensis or simply “miracle chicken”. The remains of an extinct bird were found in 2020 in the mines of the Dutch city of Maastricht by a group of scientists led by Daniel Field. You are already wondering what the very first chicken in the world looked like?

Chicken is considered the largest and most common poultry.

Title Asteriornis maastrichtensis was given to the bird in honor of the ancient Greek goddess Asteria. Legend has it that she was tempted by the god of heaven, thunder and lightning Zeus, but she escaped from his pursuits, taking the form of a bird.

About the oldest ancestor of modern hens wasnarrated in the scientific journal Nature. During excavations in the territory of one of the limestone mines, paleontologists who studied ancient creatures found a stone. Inside it was clearly the skeleton of an ancient bird, but since when trying to remove the bones, the remains could be damaged, scientists did not take risks. Instead, they scanned the fossil using a computer tomograph, which allows you to look not only inside a person, but also to study the structure of various objects.

The fossil inside which the remains of the oldest bird in the world were found

Oldest bird

As it turned out, no fossils survived insidethe whole skeleton of a bird, but only a skull and several limbs. Despite this, scientists were able to identify several features in the animal at once, which are characteristic of modern hens and ducks. The head of the ancient creation was very similar to a chicken - it had a beak on it, with which it could eat both plant seeds and insects. But from the ducks he got his paws, with the help of which it was possible to both walk on land and swim in the water. Judging by the size of the skeleton, the “miracle chicken” was so small that it could fit in the palm of an adult. According to the calculations of paleontologists, the ancient creation weighed no more than 400 grams.

According to artists, the chicken Asteriornis maastrichtensis looked something like this

It is believed that the ancestor of modern hens lived in the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago. At the same time, some of the most famous dinosaurs lived on our planet: giant iguanodons with a body length of up to 18 meters, bloodthirsty tarboosaursas well as tiny and forever embittered velociraptors. About the way of life of the ancient hens,scientists still do not know. But there is speculation that they lived in relatively open areas and avoided forests. This theory did not arise from scratch.

Ancient hens lived side by side with tarbosaurs

Reason for the extinction of dinosaurs

The fact is that the existence of modern hens andducks suggests that the ancient "miracle chicken" survived the so-called Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. At that time, many large animals were erased from the face of our planet - about 16% of marine creatures and 18% of the inhabitants of the land. The reason for their extinction is still not exactly known, but one of the theories says that then an asteroid or some other large celestial body fell on Earth. This event caused forest fires, during which many land creatures could die. But the “miracle chicken” survived - which means they did not spend much time in the forests.

It is believed that after the fall of a destructive asteroid, a crater was formed on Earth. Chiksulub. Read more about how dinosaurs died, read in our special material.

According to paleontologist Daniel Field, thisthe discovery was the most exciting in his entire career. And all because the bones of birds have increased fragility and low weight, which is why they rarely survive to this day. But the bones of Asteriornis maastrichtensis survived by some miracle, and now we know about another ancestor of modern animals.

The bones of birds are very fragile and therefore quickly decompose. In the photo - the skeleton of the Dodo bird, which died out in the XVII century

In general, the study of ancestors existing onToday animals are a very interesting activity. Right now you can read about the most ancient arachnid creature, which is considered the ancestor of poisonous scorpions. Or pay attention to our material about the ancient penguin, which is very similar to the current inhabitants of the icy territories of our planet.