Lesson of the Day: ‘What to Name the Oldest Modern Bird Fossil? Wonderchicken’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘What to Name the Oldest Modern Bird Fossil? Wonderchicken’

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Featured Article: “What to Name the Oldest Modern Bird Fossil? Wonderchicken” by Cara Giaimo

Paleontologists in England recently discovered what they believe to be the oldest modern bird fossil. In this lesson, you will learn more about this fossil, which they named the Wonderchicken, and conduct research on another fossil, from the collection of the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Watch the first two minutes of this video from Cambridge University about the Wonderchicken:

If you are interested, finish watching the rest of the video after you read the featured article.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What are some of the things that make the fossil — discovered by Dr. Daniel Field, a paleontologist, and Juan Benito, a doctoral student — significant?

2. Using your own words, how would you describe the evolutionary process that led to modern-day birds?

3. According to Dr. Field, what kind of information are paleontologists able to discover from the fossils of birds that lived before the Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago?

4. What did Dr. Field’s previous research lead him to conclude? How does the Wonderchicken fossil support his earlier hypotheses?

5. Sketch your own version of the Wonderchicken’s skull using the description provided by Dr. Field. Does it remind you of fowl, or does it look like another bird to you?

6. According to Trevor Worthy, a paleontologist, what is the connection between the Wonderchicken and modern-day chickens?

Use the databases at the University of California Museum of Paleontology to exercise your scientific observation skills. Visit its CalPhotos collection and choose one of the fossil options in the “Type of Photo” drop-down menu, such as fossil- invertebrate or fossil-vertebrate. Pick one fossil to study and use these questions and prompts as a guide in your observations:

  • What do you notice about the fossil? How much do you think it might weigh? What color is the fossil? Does it give you any ideas about what material the plant or animal might have been fossilized in?

  • Without reading the description, are you able to recognize what plant or animal is fossilized just from looking at the photo? How do you know? Are you able to recognize the shape or qualities, such as wings or a spinal column?

  • Do you think there are pieces missing from the fossil that make it harder to identify? What do you think might be missing?

  • Draw your own version of the fossil, filling out the other elements that might be missing.

  • Now, look at the name of the fossil that is listed on the website. Have you heard of this plant or animal before? Do you recognize the root of its name? Conduct further research online about the plant or animal and share the information with your classmates or in the comments section.