Fossil evidence of wing shape in a stem relative of swifts and hummingbirds (Aves, Pan-Apodiformes)

Daniel T. Ksepka, Julia A. Clarke, Sterling J. Nesbitt, Felicia B. Kulp, Lance Grande

Abstract

A feathered specimen of a new species of Eocypselus from the Early Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming provides insight into the wing morphology and ecology in an early part of the lineage leading to extant swifts and hummingbirds. Combined phylogenetic analysis of morphological and molecular data supports placement of Eocypselus outside the crown radiation of Apodiformes. The new specimen is the first described fossil of Pan-Apodiformes from the pre-Pleistocene of North America and the only reported stem taxon with informative feather preservation. Wing morphology of Eocypselus rowei sp. nov. is intermediate between the short wings of hummingbirds and the hyper-elongated wings of extant swifts, and shows neither modifications for the continuous gliding used by swifts nor modifications for the hovering flight style used by hummingbirds. Elongate hindlimb elements, particularly the pedal phalanges, also support stronger perching capabilities than are present in Apodiformes. The new species is the smallest bird yet described from the Green River Formation, and supports the hypothesis that a decrease in body size preceded flight specializations in Pan-Apodiformes. The specimen also provides the first instance of melanosome morphology preserved in association with skeletal remains from the Green River Formation.

  • Received March 7, 2013.
  • Accepted April 4, 2013.
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