Early Hummingbird Fossil Found in Germany
Nowadays the iridescent nectar-sipping creatures are found in the New World, in North and South America, but they apparently lived much further afield when they evolved, said Gerald Mayr, a zoologist from Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, a natural history museum in Frankfurt, Germany.
"These are the oldest fossils of modern-type hummingbirds, which had not previously been reported from the Old World," Mayr wrote in his report, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
"The findings demonstrate that early hummingbird evolution was not restricted to the New World."
Until this find the oldest, modern hummingbird fossils were from South America and only about 1 million years old.
Mayr named the new fossil species Eurotrochilus inexpectatus, a name that expresses the unexpected nature of his find.
"The amazing thing about this fossil is that it's essentially a modern hummingbird," Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut told Science. "My mind is a little blown."
The pair of inch-and-a-half-long skeletons have shoulders that would have allowed the wings to rotate, a key feature that gives hummingbirds their ability to hover and even fly backward.
The existence of hummingbirds so long ago may help explain why certain flowers were able to evolve in Europe and Asia that have no landing pad for pollinators such as short-tongued bees, Mayr said.