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Fossil of Tropical Parrot 16 Million Years Ago Discovered in Freezing Siberia

Oct 27, 2016 07:23 AM EDT
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A tropical parrot bone has been discovered in Siberia, giving rise to the theory that these birds might have once populated even this icy region of Eurasia. Found in the Baikal region, the bone dates back to 16 and 18 million years ago.

The research, published in the journal Biology Letters, was authored by Dr. Nikita Zelenkov from the Borissiak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He was very surprised by the discovery. "No-one before has ever found evidence of their presence in Siberia," he said.

At Tagay Bay in the east of Siberia, Dr. Zelenkov unearthed part of a bone called a tarsometatarsus. Anatomically located in the lower leg of birds, this tarsometatarsus was discovered to have belonged to a small parrot. Dr. Zelenkov noted, "This locality is also interesting because it preserves a rich community of fossil birds. But no exotic birds have been found there before."

In an interview with BBC News, Dr. David Waterhouse, senior curator of natural history at Norfolk Museums Service, noted that Dr. Zelenkov's findings were not completely unexpected. "Even though today we associate parrots with tropical and sub-tropical environments, you can get parrots in the Himalayas," he said. "So they can deal with those climates -- and during the Miocene period, it was even warmer than it is now. So when you put it together, it is not surprising."

This research could modify the current theories of how early parrots came to the Americas from Africa. "This paper suggests -- and it is only a suggestion but it is an interesting one -- that we have parrots in Asia and the easiest possible route from Asia to North America is across what's now the Bering Strait, across from Russia into Canada and Alaska," stated Dr. Waterhouse.

Dr. Waterhouse takes these findings as a further challenge to science, saying, "They've found something that even if it doesn't give us all the answers, it does raise more questions and starts us thinking about new hypotheses - and that's the kind of science that I like."

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