John Conway; (bone inset) Gareth Dyke

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ScienceShot: Squawking With Dinosaurs

What was toothless, may have been the size of an ostrich, and lived alongside the dinosaurs? According to a paper published today in Biology Letters, the answer is Samrukia nessovi—an enormous bird discovered in the 83-million to 70-million-year old strata of southern Kazakhstan. Very little is known about the creature. Paleontologists have only a pair of lower jaw fragments to go on, the larger of which (pictured above) is almost 11 inches long. Nevertheless, the size and anatomy of the bones identify Samrukia as a unique species of archaic bird which would have weighed at least 25 pounds—far larger than any of its known contemporaries. That overturns the previously held idea that birds stayed small until the nonavian dinosaurs died out. In life, Samrukia may have resembled an albatross if it could fly, and an ostrich if it was flightless (two possibilities envisioned in silhouette in this speculative restoration) though paleontologists have a few more bones to pick before they can be sure.

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