Since the description of Confuciusornis (the oldest beaked bird) in1995, based on three partial specimens, large numbers of complete skeletons have been recovered1,2. Most new material of Confuciusornis3,4 can be assigned to a single sexually dimorphic species, C. sanctus . Here we report a new species based on a remarkably well preserved skeleton with feathers and, for the first time in the Mesozoic record, direct evidence of the shape of a horny beak. It has a complete and large preserved postorbital that has a broad contact with the jugal bone. This character is presently only known in Confuciusornis, and may confirm previous suggestions of a postorbital in Archaeopteryx5. The squamosal is in tight contact with the postorbital. These two bones form an arch dividing the upper and lower temporal fenestrae, as in other diapsid reptiles6. The presence of a typical diapsid cheek region with two openings in Confuciusornis may preclude the presence of prokinesis (upper jaw mobility against the braincase and orbital area), a feeding adaptation found in most modern birds. The presence of a horny beak, characteristic of modern birds, coupled with a primitive temporal region provides new evidence for a mosaic pattern in the early evolution of birds.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Hou, L., Martin, L. D., Zhou, Z. & Feduccia, A. Early adaptive radiation of birds: evidence from fossils from northeastern China. Science 274, 1164–1167 (1996).
Peters, D. S. Ein nahezu vollständiges Skellette eines urtümlichen Vogels aus China. Natur und Museum 126, 298–302 (1996).
Hou, L., Zhou, Z., Gu, Y. & Zhang, H. Confuciusornis sanctus, a new Late Jurassic sauriurine bird from China. Chin. Sci. Bull. 40, 1545–1551 (1995).
Hou, L., Zhou, Z., Martin, L. D. & Feduccia, A. Abeaked bird from the Jurassic of China. Nature 377, 616–618 (1995).
Elzanowski, A. & Wellnhofer, P. Cranial morphology of Archaeopteryx : evidence from the seventh skeleton. J. Vert. Paleontol. 16, 81–94 (1996).
Reisz, R. R. Adiapsid reptile from the Pennsylvanian of Kansas. Special Publ. Nat. Hist. Mus. Univ. Kansas 7, 1–74 (1981).
Colbert, E. H. & Russell, D. A. The small Cretaceous dinosaur Dromaeosaurus . Amer. Mus. Novit. 2380, 1–49 (1969).
Wellnhofer, P. Das fünfte Skelettexemplar von Archaeopteryx . Palaeontographica A 147, 169–216 (1974).
Zhou, Z., Jin, F. & Zhang, J. Preliminary report on a Mesozoic bird from Liaoning, China. Chin. Sci. Bull. 37, 1365–1368 (1992).
Zhou, Z. The discovery of Early Cretaceous birds in China. Cour. Forchungsinst. Senckenb. 181, 9–22 (1995).
Martin, L. D. & Zhou, Z. Archaeopteryx -like skull in enantiornithine bird. Nature 389, 556 (1997).
Sanz, J. L. et al. . An Early Cretaceous bird from Spain and its implication for the evolution of avian flight. Science 276, 1543–1546 (1997).
Zhou, Z. & Hou, L. Confuciusornis and the early evolution of birds. Vertebr. PalAsiat 36, 136–146 (1998).
Hou, L., Martin, L. D., Zhou, Z. & Feduccia, A. Archaeopteryx to opposite birds—missing link from the Mesozoic of China. Vertebr. PalAsiat. 37(in the press).
Feduccia, A. The Origin and Evolution of Birds(Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1996).
Chatterjee, S. The Rise of Birds(John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1997).
Martin, L. D. & Miao, D. in Short Papers of the Sixth Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems and Biota 217–219 (China Ocean Press, Beijing, 1995).
We thank L. Witmer and S. Chatterjee for critical and helpful comments and reviews, and D. Miao for assistance and suggestions. The Chinese Natural Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society (U.S.) and the Grand Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences supported fieldwork in Liaoning Province, northeast China. M. Tanner did the drawings and J. Chorn the photographs. D. Miao and J. Chorn critically read the manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Hou, L., Martin, L., Zhou, Z. et al. A diapsid skull in a new species of the primitive bird Confuciusornis. Nature 399, 679–682 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/21411
Science China Earth Sciences (2020)
Cretaceous Research (2020)
Disassociated rhamphotheca of fossil bird Confuciusornis informs early beak reconstruction, stress regime, and developmental patterns
Communications Biology (2020)
Inferring lifestyle for Aves and Theropoda: A model based on curvatures of extant avian ungual bones
PLOS ONE (2020)
New anatomical information on the bohaiornithid Longusunguis and the presence of a plesiomorphic diapsid skull in Enantiornithes
Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (2020)