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New subclass of birds from the Cretaceous of South America


Current classification of birds recognizes three subclasses which are morphologically distinct: the Archaeornithes for Archaeopteryx, the Odontornithes for the Hesperornithiformes and the Ichthyornithiformes, and the Neornithes for all modern birds and their extinct immediate relatives. (Some authorities1 prefer different names for some of these taxa.) I have examined new material recently discovered in the Upper Cretaceous rocks of Argentina which indicates the existence of a group of birds having features so different from those of the currently recognized subclasses that they seem to represent a fourth subclass, here named the Enantiornithes (‘opposite birds’). I describe unique features of the Enantiornithes which include a reduced outer metatarsal, in some forms an extreme modification of the remaining elements of the tarsometatarsus, a highly modified pectoral girdle, and sometimes a characteristic perforation in the proximal end of the humerus.

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Walker, C. New subclass of birds from the Cretaceous of South America. Nature 292, 51–53 (1981).

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