, 98:961 | Cite as

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

  • Gerald MayrEmail author
  • Herculano Alvarenga
  • Cécile Mourer-Chauviré
Original Paper


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.


Opisthocomiformes Biogeography Miocene Brazil Namibia 



We thank B. Senut and M. Pickford for enabling study of the Namibiavis material. The photos were taken by G. Couto-Ribeiro (Hoazinavis and juvenile Opisthocomus), D. Serrette and Ph. Loubry (Namibiavis), and S. Tränkner (adult Opisthocomus). The manuscript benefited from comments of four anonymous referees. The English was improved by corrections from T. Worthy. R. Blakey is acknowledged for permission to reproduce one of his palaeomap reconstructions.

Supplementary material

114_2011_849_MOESM1_ESM.doc (41 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Mayr
    • 1
    Email author
  • Herculano Alvarenga
    • 2
  • Cécile Mourer-Chauviré
    • 3
  1. 1.Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Sektion OrnithologieFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Museu de História Natural de TaubatéTaubatéBrazil
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Géologie de LyonUniversité Lyon 1Villeurbanne CedexFrance

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