Paleontologists locating fossils is likely already exciting enough, but sometimes they find them in the unlikeliest of places. In this case, researchers found a 25 million-year-old eagle fossil belonging to the world’s oldest species on a cattle ranch in Australia.
The Daily Mail UK reports Flinders University paleontologists discovered Archaehierax sylvestris on a remote South Australian cattle station. Researchers discovered it on the barren shore of a dry lake in a sandy desert habitat during an investigation.
“Archaehierax sylvestris was a little smaller and leaner than the wedge-tailed eagle,” according to Ph.D. candidate Ellen Mather. “It’s the largest eagle known from this time period in Australia. The foot span was nearly 15 cm long, which would have allowed it to grasp large prey.”
Mather goes on to say it was one of the more dominant predators of the time. “The largest marsupial predators at the time were about the size of a small dog or large cat, so Archaehierax was certainly ruling the roost.” Associate Professor Trevor Worthy also notes eagles weren’t prevalent at the time, so finding a fossil of them is exceedingly rare.
The fossil reveals Archaehireax’s wings were short for their size, much like the eagles of today. Conversely, its legs were long and would have given it great reach. “The combination of these traits suggests Archaehierax was an agile but not particularly fast flier and was most likely an ambush hunter,” Mather explained. “It was one of the top terrestrial predators of the late Oligocene, swooping upon birds and mammals.”
Interestingly, Mather concludes by saying it uniquely branched off from the eagle family. This makes it unlikely to be a direct ancestor to any present species.
18-Foot Long Prehistoric Sea Monster Fossil Discovered in Kansas
Australia isn’t the only odd place to find a fossil, it seems. Recently, researchers discovered an 18-foot-long prehistoric sea monster fossil in Kansas.
Previously classified as FHSM VP-5515, the large sea-dwelling creature recently received a new name, Ectenosaurus everhartorum. Only the second known species of the Ectenosaurus genus, it is distinct from other mosasaurs. “We knew it was a new species, but we didn’t know if it was an Ectenosaurus or not,” Konishi told Live Science. “To answer that puzzle, we were eventually able to find another feature where the jaw joint was, at the back end of the lower jaw.”
Konishi elaborates, saying this jaw discovery helped classify the species. “That little depression turned out to be a newly discovered consistent feature for the genus Ectenosaurus. You have this Ectenosaurus united by the little notch at the end of the lower jaw, but then it’s consistently different at the level of the species from the generic type — that is to say, the first species assigned to the genus.”
Despite the skinny snout, it was powerful, being able to bite into something as hard as turtle shells. This discovery, coupled with it being found in Kansas, raises more questions. Konishi finishes the interview wondering if the species lived locally on the shore or further south or north.