Lake Grapevine dig yields oldest bird fossil in North America

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by JOHN McCAA / WFAA-TV

Bio | Email | Follow: @johnmccaa

wfaa.com

Posted on March 18, 2010 at 9:10 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 18 at 9:32 PM

DALLAS — Lake Grapevine is known for its vistas and fine fishing. Now it has attracted the attention of scientists, thanks to a sharp-eyed fossil collector.

Kris Howe is a science star after finding something that's been missing for 96 million years.

It looked like a roadrunner, but not quite.

It is named Flexomornis howei, after the man who discovered it. Scientists knew the bird existed on every continent except Antarctica, but somehow their record in North America was thin.

Until, that is, Kris Howe came across a few howei bones during a fossil dig at Lake Grapevine.

"My first thought was, 'Wow! That's pretty cool looking; I wish I knew what it was," Howe recalled.

He started hunting fossils at age five, so Howe knew this one was different. "I knew it probably wasn't a crocodile, and it definitely wasn't a turtle," Howe said.

But while he didn't know, Howe knew that Tony Fiorello and Ron Tykoski and the staff at the Museum of Nature & Science would.

Holding the tiny bones that first time, their excitement instantly grew.

"What's the oldest fossil bird in North America?" Fiorello asked. "Well, it looks like we're holding it."

"These birds are all extinct," Tykoski added. "This particular group disappeared, left no descendants."

A naturalist working with bone fragments came up an image of what Flexomornis howei might have looked like. The model is now on display at the Museum of Nature & Science at Dallas Fair Park.

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com

 

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