- Type: Bird
- Diet: Insectivore
- Protection status: Extinct
Alexornis is an extinct, prehistoric bird, which lived at the time of the dinosaurs. It was a small, sparrow-like animal with feathers and a toothed beak. Alexornis is named after ornithologist Alexander Wetmore. Alexornis lived during the Late Cretaceous 75 to 65 mya. Enantiornithines had feet adapted for perching like modern day birds. Alexornis lived in an environment of warm, coastal lagoons, swamps, mudflats and forest. It lived alongside dinosaurs like Pachyrhinosaurus, Lambeosaurus, and Gorgosaurus. Enantiornithine birds like Alexornis were widespread and possibly capable of crossing oceans. They were the first bird lineage with a global distribution.
Enantiornithines had 'bastard wings' - a small pointing arrangement of feathers on the first digit - like modern birds do today. This gave them better manoeuvrability in the air.One of the most unusual features of birds like Alexornis is that they had teeth, which living birds have lost. Because their dinosaur ancestors had teeth, birds must have lost them at some point during their evolution history. Amazingly, scientists have successfully made chickens grow teeth in laboratory experiments. That means the genes that code for teeth are still hidden away in the DNA of living birds! Alexornis might have been similar to a sparrow in flight speed, but we will never know for sure. Alexornis were members of a group of prehistoric birds - the Enantiornithes - which went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous along with the dinosaurs. They are not the direct ancestors of modern birds but a side branch that was pruned along the way.Alexornis and other early birds are thought to have had similar perceptions to modern birds.Archeopteryx, one of the earlier bird-like dinosaurs, had heightened auditory and sensory perception in the ear and was well adapted to life on the wing. Most enantiornithine birds likeAlexornis possessed teeth. In fact, there were a variety of different forms of teeth. Like the varied beaks of Darwin's finches, these ancient birds had specialised teeth, well adapted to suit the varying diets of different species. Alexornis might have smelled like a dinosaur. Early birds have been studied and found to have had a respectable sense of smell. This sense was eventually lost in later birds as they moved towards a heightened sense of vision and balance. Alexornis is known from just one fragmentary fossil of the shoulder, wing and leg. It was discovered by HJ Garbani and J Loewe in 1971 in Baja California, Mexico. Because the remains are so fragmentary, the majority of our knowledge of Alexornisis inferred from other members of their group, the Enantiornithes. Eyesight would have beenAlexornis' most important sense. For a life in the skies, good binocular vision is essential. Alexornis, like its close relatives, had feathers similar to today's birds. These were asymmetrical flight feathers, which indicates considerable flight capability. The remnants of a mass breeding colony of an enantiornithine bird has been found in Romania. Given the large volume of eggshells, this colony must have been considerable, consisting of hundreds of nests. The site is consistent with ground nesting birds and is thought to have been left by close relatives ofAlexornis. Alexornis is thought to have had an enlarged forebrain, consistent with other birds leading a life in the air. Alexornis probably, like other enantiornithines, relied on their teeth rather than beak to manipulate their food. A number of enantiornithines had well-developed hatchlings with wing feathers and a large brain. They were ready to run, forage and even fly within just a few days. This might have meant that they left the nest within just a few days of birth. Alexornis had feathers - who knows what colours they might have been? Fossils have not been found with colour compounds still in situ, so we might never really know. We know very little about the feeding habits ofAlexornis. Some enantiornithines had large, robust jaws for eating hard shelled invertebrates, others had long snouts and thin teeth at the tip of their jaws for probing mud and still others had larger teeth for fishing.
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