Hummingbird with modern feathering: an exceptionally well-preserved Oligocene fossil from southern France

Abstract

Hummingbirds (Trochilidae) today have an exclusively New World distribution, but their pre-Pleistocene fossil record comes from Europe only. In this study, we describe an exceptionally preserved fossil hummingbird from the early Oligocene of southeastern France. The specimen is articulated, with a completely preserved beak and feathering. Osteological characters allow to identify it as Eurotrochilus sp. This genus is a stem group representative of Trochilidae and was recently described from the early Oligocene of southern Germany. The new fossil reveals that these European Trochilidae were remarkably modern in size, skeletal proportions and the shape of the wing, tail and beak and hyoid bones. These features confirm the early acquisition of the abilities of hovering and nectarivory in hummingbirds, probably before the Oligocene. In several morphological characteristics, they resemble members of the ‘true hummingbirds’ (subfamily Trochilinae) and differ from hermits (Phaethornithinae). These features, which include a short and square tail and a moderately long, almost straight beak, appear to be primitive within the family Trochilidae.

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Acknowledgements

We are most grateful to S. Mailliot for taking the photographs and A. Prieur for making the cast. We also thank, for comments, which improved the manuscript, U. Göhlich and two anonymous reviewers and G. Mayr who also helped us with the interpretation of the hyoid bones. This article is the contribution UMR5125-07.46.

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Correspondence to Antoine Louchart.

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Communicated by: G. Mayr

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Louchart, A., Tourment, N., Carrier, J. et al. Hummingbird with modern feathering: an exceptionally well-preserved Oligocene fossil from southern France. Naturwissenschaften 95, 171–175 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-007-0309-0

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Keywords

  • Eurotrochilus
  • Evolution
  • Oligocene
  • Plumage
  • Trochilidae