Giant Prehistoric Bird With Teeth Found Near London


Image courtesy of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

An ancient relative of modern ducks and geese that skimmed the swampy wetlands of what is today England had a 16-foot wingspan and a beak full of crocodile-like teeth, scientists said on Friday.

Announced in the journal Palaeontology, the findings were based on a skull that belonged to Dasornis, a bony-toothed bird, or pelagornithid. It was discovered in the London Clay, a marine geological formation that lies under much of  of southeast England.

“Imagine a bird like an ocean-going goose, almost the size of a small plane,” said Gerald Mayr, palaeornithologist at the German Senckenberg Research Institute and author of the report. “By today’s standards these were pretty bizarre animals, but perhaps the strangest thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like projections along the cutting edges of the beak.”

The beak was so covered in bony teeth that it looked like a crocodile, Mayr told the Times Online.

The giant birds probably skimmed across the surface of the sea like an albatross, snapping up fish and squid on the wing, Mayr said. “With only an ordinary [toothless] beak these would have been difficult to keep hold of, and the pseudo-teeth evolved to prevent meals slipping away.”

Bony-toothed birds have been found in the clay deposits before, but the new fossil is one the best skulls ever found, and preserves previously unknown details of the anatomy of these strange creatures.

The fifty-million-year-old fossil was discovered on the Isle of Sheppey off the southeast coast of England in the Thames Estuary.


Image courtesy of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn