Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 15–20

The earliest known pelican reveals 30 million years of evolutionary stasis in beak morphology

  • Antoine Louchart
  • Nicolas Tourment
  • Julie Carrier
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10336-010-0537-5

Cite this article as:
Louchart, A., Tourment, N. & Carrier, J. J Ornithol (2011) 152: 15. doi:10.1007/s10336-010-0537-5


The feeding apparatus of Paleogene birds is rarely well-preserved. Here, we describe the earliest known pelican (early Oligocene, Luberon, southeastern France), with its almost complete beak. Morphologically identical to modern pelicans, the new fossil already shows several advanced features unique to extant species of the genus Pelecanus. It probably belongs to the lineage ancestral to all or some of these pelican species. This fossil reveals a remarkable evolutionary stasis in the morphology of such an advanced avian feeding apparatus through ca. 30 million years. Several hypotheses are proposed to suggest explanations for such examples of long stases in volant homeothermic vertebrates.


Cranial kinesisEvolutionFeeding apparatusOligocenePelecanus



Laboratoire d’Anatomie Comparée, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, France


Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley, USA


Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, France

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antoine Louchart
    • 1
  • Nicolas Tourment
    • 2
  • Julie Carrier
    • 3
  1. 1.Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, équipe “Evo-dévo de la denture chez les Vertébrés”, Ecole Normale Supérieure de LyonUniversité de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS, INRALyon cedex 07France
  2. 2.Nicolas TourmentMarseilleFrance
  3. 3.Collège le BassenonCondrieuFrance