Tiny Pumiliornis: enigma no longer

Pumiliornis tesellatus
is a wren-sized (shown larger than actual size) Messel pit bird that was originally (Mayr 1999) considered an enigma and later (Mayr 2008) allied with cuckoos. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1225 taxa) tiny Pumiliornis nests with Platalea, the spoonbill (Fig. 2) as a phylogenetic miniature, close to, but not quite related to the parallel, short-legged genesis of ducks and geese.

Presbyornis, currently at the base of ducks, still has long legs and a long neck. More derived taxa in the duck branch lose their long legs, although some, like the swan and goose, retain a long neck.

Figure 1. Pumiliornis is a phylogenetic miniature related to the spoonbill, Platalea, at the genesis of ducks.

Figure 1. Pumiliornis is a phylogenetic miniature related to the spoonbill, Platalea, at the genesis of ducks.

Pumiliornis tessellatus (Mayr 1999, 2008; 6cm long; middle Eocene). This wren-sized relative to spoonbills and ancestor to ducks has a spatulate beak tip. This is a neotonous form of the long-legged spoonbill with juvenile size and proporitons representing the genesis of a new clade. This fossil contains fossil grains in the cloacal area (white box). Note that no webbing is preserved between the toes. Spoonbills also lack webbed toes.

Figure 1. The roseate spoonbill (genus: Platalea) in vivo. Traditionally spoonbills and storks have been nested together. Here it nests between storks and ducks.

Figure 2. The roseate spoonbill (genus: Platalea) in vivo. Traditionally spoonbills and storks have been nested together. Here the spoonbill nests between the ibis, Threskiornis, and ducks.

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the crown bird clade. Brown taxa are all long-legged. Neotony produces the smaller, shorter-legged, arboreal taxa.

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the crown bird clade. Brown taxa are all long-legged. Neotony produces the smaller, shorter-legged, arboreal taxa.

References
Mayr G 1999. Pumiliornis tessellatus n. gen. n. sp., a new enigmatic bird from the Middle Eocene of Grube Messel (Hessen, Germany). Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 216: 31–73, Frankfurt a.M. 1999.
Mayr G 2008. Pumiliornis tessellatus MAYR, 1999 revisited – new data on the osteology and possible phylogenetic affinities of an enigmatic Middle Eocene bird. Palfontologische Zeitschrift. 82/3: 247–253.

wiki/Platalea
wiki/Pumiliornis

2 thoughts on “Tiny Pumiliornis: enigma no longer

  1. Ducks generally do have rather long necks, they just carry them ‘folded’ into an ‘s’ shape other than when reaching for something. Go watch them in the park :-)

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