Scientist Reexamine Mysterious Bird Fossils from Jamaica

by Rosalinda Villegas, age 14

“Whether these particular birds went extinct after humans arrived, we don’t know and the trick is we don’t have a lot of fossils,” says Nicholas R. Longrich, a paleontologist at Yale. He is talking about the Xenicibus Xympithecus.

Storrs L. Olsen, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, discovered the first fossils of Xenicibus Xympithecus in Jamaica during the 1970s. He was fascinated by its strange club-like wings. Neither Dr. Longrich nor Dr. Olsen were sure why the birds needed the wings they had. Their hand bones were unusually long and thick; they may have been used as a weapon for the bird to swing forcefully.

The two scientists hypothesize that the birds used their thick wings in combat to battle predators, or to fight among themselves over territory. Other birds have weapons, but the Xenicibus Xympithecus’ wings are unlike any others.

Researchers from Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution recently reexamined the Xenicibus Xympithecus’ fossils. They classified the bird as a member of the ibis family, which includes birds with long legs and long bills that typically live in wetlands, plains, and forests.

Dr. Longrich has been trying to figure out the full body structure of the species since he first came across these fossils. After finding its fossils, his next step is trying to find out why and how these birds became extinct. Some fossil records indicate they may have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago.

[Source: The New York Times]