May 7, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Fossil Hummingbird, Arthropod Look Modern

Science announced that a rare hummingbird fossil has been found in Germany and, though assumed to be 30 million years old, is indistinguishable from living New-World hummingbirds.  This upsets the standard theory that hummingbirds evolved in the New World only.  Writing in the May 7 issue,1 discoverer Gerald Mayr said,

I report on tiny skeletons of stem-group hummingbirds from the early Oligocene of Germany that are of essentially modern appearance and exhibit morphological specializations toward nectarivory and hovering flight.  These are the oldest fossils of modern-type hummingbirds, which had not previously been reported from the Old World.  The findings demonstrate that early hummingbird evolution was not restricted to the New World.  They further suggest that bird�flower coevolution dates back to the early Oligocene and open another view on the origin of ornithophily in Old World plants.

Reviewer Erik Stokstad in the same issue2 quotes ornithologist Margaret Rubega (U. of Connecticut), “The amazing thing about this fossil is that it’s essentially a modern hummingbird.  My mind is a little blown.”  He adds, “Where the whole hovering tribe came from … remains up in the air.”     MSNBC News has a picture of the fossil.  It mentions that Mayr named his specimen Eurotrochilus inexpectatus, an “unexpected European version of Trochilus, a modern hummingbird genus.  He called his find a “striking example for the complexity of evolution and animal biogeography.”
    The previous day, Nature announced a Cambrian fossil that shows an arthropod in the act of molting (shedding its exoskeleton).  The discoverers say, “Here we describe a 505-million-year-old specimen of the Cambrian soft-bodied arthropod Marrella splendens that has been visibly preserved in the middle of the act of moulting.  This specimen confirms that early arthropods moulted during growth, just as they do today.


1Gerald Mayr, “Old World Fossil Record of Modern-Type Hummingbirds,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5672, 861-864 , 7 May 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096856].
2Erik Stokstad, “Surprise Hummingbird Fossil Sets Experts Abuzz,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5672, 810-811 , 7 May 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5672.810a].
3Diego C. Garcia-Bellido and Desmond H. Collins, “Moulting arthropod caught in the act,” Nature 429, 40 (06 May 2004); doi:10.1038/429040a.

Anyone see evolution here?  Is this what Charlie would have predicted?  Two guesses who would have predicted the sudden, abrupt appearance of fully formed, functional organisms.  (Hint: the same ones who would have predicted the salamander, the fly, the worm, the ostracode, the spider, the frog, the shark, the forams, the Cambrian fish, the cockroach, the tick, the ant, etc.)

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