February 27, 2009—The unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to ten million years ago was found on Peru's arid southern coast, researchers said Friday.
The fossil is the best preserved cranium ever found of a pelagornithid, a family of large seabirds believed to have gone extinct some three million years ago, said Rodolfo Salas, head of vertebrate paleontology at Peru's National History Museum.
The museum said that the birds had wingspans of up to 20 feet (6 meters) and may have used the toothlike projections on their beaks to prey on slippery fish and squid.
But studying members of the Pelagornithidae family has been difficult, because their extremely thin bones—while helpful for keeping the avian giants aloft—tended not to survive as fossils.
"Its fossils are very strange, very rare, and very hard to find," Salas told the Associated Press.
"Rarely are any bones of these gigantic, marine birds found fossilized uncrushed, and to find an uncrushed skull of this size is very significant," said Ken Campbell, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
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