, Volume 98, Issue 11, pp 961-966

Out of Africa: Fossils shed light on the origin of the hoatzin, an iconic Neotropic bird

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Abstract

We describe the earliest fossils of the enigmatic avian taxon Opisthocomiformes (hoatzins) from the Oligo-Miocene (22–24 mya) of Brazil. The bones, a humerus, scapula and coracoid, closely resemble those of the extant hoatzin, Opisthocomus hoazin. The very similar osteology of the pectoral girdle in the new Brazilian fossil compared to the extant O. hoazin, in which it reflects peculiar feeding adaptations, may indicate that hoatzins had already evolved their highly specialized feeding behavior by the mid-Cenozoic. We further show that Namibiavis senutae from the early Miocene of Namibia is another, previously misclassified representative of Opisthocomiformes, which documents that the extant Neotropic distribution of hoatzins is relictual. Because of the weak flight capabilities of hoatzins, their occurrence on both sides of the South Atlantic is of particular biogeographic interest. We detail that this distribution pattern is best explained by dispersal from Africa to South America, and that Opisthocomiformes provide the first example of transatlantic rafting among birds.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje