Paleontologists from China and the United States presented the first known species of Early Cretaceous bird with teeth specialized for eating prey with exoskeletons like insects and crabs in the January 7, 2013, issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Sulcavis geeorum was found in the Liaoning Province of China and lived 121 to 125 million years ago.
This new species had robust teeth with grooves on the inside surface, which likely strengthened the teeth against harder food items like insects, crabs, and crustaceans. No previous bird species yet found have preserved ridges, striations, serrated edges, or any other form of dental ornamentation like Sulcavis geeorum.
Sulcavis geeorum is a member of the enantiornithine group of birds that flourished during the time of the dinosaurs. While most bird species were losing their teeth in favor of beaks, Sulcavis geeorum is one of a group of species that evolved specialized teeth for a particular prey group. The enantiornithines are unique among birds in showing minimal tooth reduction and a diversity of dental patterns.
The enantiornithines died out after the Cretaceous Period. The authors speculate that changes in the availability of food prey may have been the cause of the death of the toothed bird species in favor of the beaked birds that lived on to the present.
The research was reviewed at the Eureka Alert website the date of publication.