Providing yet another reminder of how much the land — and the life on it — changes over time, scientists say they’ve found, on the arid plateaus of southwestern Wyoming, the remains of an extinct tropical waterbird.
The leggy, long-necked shorebird is a species never before seen, one of the earliest known ancestors of today’s flamingos, storks, and herons, and the first such forebear ever discovered in the American West.
Named Vadaravis, or “wader bird,” it lived some 52 million years ago, when the now-thirsty land where Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah meet were covered in a vast, lush chain of lakes. This damp, stagnant ecosystem turned out to be an ideal site for fossil formation, which is why today it’s home to some of the best preserved and most diverse fossil deposits in the West.
(Read more about it: “Tiny Fossil Discovered in Wyoming Reveals Great-Granddaddy of Hummingbirds“)
At first it seemed to resemble another waterbird known from the local fossil record: Presbyornis, which has been likened to a long-legged goose.
But some distinguishing features of the newfound fossil proved it to be an altogether new genus and species to science, a likely forebear of the group of long-billed birds that includes modern spoonbills and ibises.
What exactly it resembled is difficult to piece together for now, however; despite the excellent preservation of the fossil, only the skull was missing.
Smith and the team describe their find in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.