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Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

Obscure Mesozoic birds you'll only know about if you're a Mesozoic bird nerd: Jibeinia luanhera

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Time to recycle more old text, this time from my aborted dinosaur field guide project. Long-time Tet Zoo readers will know what I'm talking about (for more discussion see this article on ornithomimosaurs and this one on ankylosaurs).

Jibeinia luanhera holotype, redrawn from Hou (2000).

Jibeinia luanhera is a Lower Cretaceous toothed bird, named for the Hebei Region and Luanhe River in China. Originally stated to be from the Yixian Formation, it now seems that it is in fact from the (perhaps Aptian) Huajiying Formation (Jin et al. 2008). First mentioned in a book published in 1997 (Hou 1997), it wasn’t formally named until 2000 when Lianhai Hou described and illustrated it (Hou 2000). Hou (2000) seems to have regarded Jibeinia as part of Confuciusornithidae (and hence as closely related to the famous Confuciusornis), but also as close to the ancestry of enantiornithines (it’s actually difficult to work out exactly what he thought, since his views on bird evolution - at least as expressed in his books Mesozoic Birds of China and Picture Book of Chinese Fossil Birds - are somewhat vague and what you might regard as ‘non-standard’).

The Jibeinia holotype is reasonably complete and shows that it was a thrush-sized form capable of flying and perching. As expected in a bird from this part of the family tree (Jibeinia is most likely an enantiornithine), Jibeinia had unfused metacarpals, three clawed fingers, gastralia, and unserrated teeth. Its sternum seems to have lacked a keel (not a typical feature for an enantiornithine, though it is present in various members of the group).

The only known specimen hasn’t been subjected to enough technical study for there to be any firm conclusions as regards its phylogenetic affinities, and it was reported in 2001 that it had somehow become lost, with only low-quality casts remaining. This means that we’ll probably never get to know more about it.

The Vescornis hebeiensis holotype, from Zhang et al. (2004).

In 2004, Zhang et al. (2004) described the new Huajiying Formation enantiornithine Vescornis hebeiensis, discovered at a nearby locality in Hebei Province. Because Vescornis is similar in size and in overall morphology to Jibeinia, Zhang et al. (2004) considered it plausible that the two might be the same thing (obviously, the loss of the Jibeinia holotype meant that they were unable to test this idea). That’s plausible, but the two are also different in some notable respects (Jibeinia’s unkeeled sternum differs from the keeled one present in Vescornis, and it has more phalanges in manual digit III and more maxillary teeth than Vescornis). Confusing things a little further is that Vescornis seems to be based on the specimen referred to as Hebeiornis fengningensis by Xu et al. (1999).

That about sums up what we know about Jibeinia. It’s a familiar enough taxon to Mesozoic bird nerds; to the rest of you, I assume it’s new. For previous Tet Zoo articles on enantiornithines and other Mesozoic birds, see…

Exciting news on Mesozoic birds to come very soon...

Refs - -

Hou, L. 1997. Mesozoic Birds of China. Phoenix Valley Bird Park, Lugu Hsiang, Taiwan.

- . 2000. Picture Book of Chinese Fossil Birds. Yunnan Science and Technology Press, Kunming, China.

Jin, F., Zhang, F. C., Li, Z. H., Zhang, J. Y., Li, C. & Zhou, Z. H. 2008. On the horizon of Protopteryx and the early vertebrate fossil assemblages of the Jehol Biota. Chinese Science Bulletin 53, 2820-2827.

Xu, G. L., Yang, Y. S. & Deng, S. Y. 1999. First discovery of Mesozoic bird fossils in Hebei Province and its significance.Regional Geology of China. 18, 444-448.

Zhang, F., Ericson, P. G. P. & Zhou, Z. 2004. Description of a new enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous of Hebei, northern China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 41, 1097-1107.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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