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Disassociated rhamphotheca of fossil bird Confuciusornis informs early beak reconstruction, stress regime, and developmental patterns

Miller, Case Vincent; Pittman, Michael; Kaye, Thomas G.; Wang, Xiaoli; Bright, Jen A.; Zheng, Xiaoting


Case Vincent Miller

Michael Pittman

Thomas G. Kaye

Xiaoli Wang

Xiaoting Zheng


Soft tissue preservation in fossil birds provides a rare window into their anatomy, function, and development. Here, we present an exceptionally-preserved specimen of Confuciusornis which, through Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence imaging, is identified as preserving a disassociated rhamphotheca. Reconstruction of the in vivo position of the rhamphotheca validates the association of the rhamphotheca with two previous confuciusornithid specimens while calling that of a third specimen into question. The ease of dissociation is discussed and proposed with a fourth specimen alongside finite element analysis as evidence for preferential soft-food feeding. However, this proposition remains tentative until there is a better understanding of the functional role of beak attachment in living birds. Differences in post-rostral extent and possibly rhamphotheca curvature between confuciusornithids and modern birds hint at developmental differences between the two. Together, this information provides a wealth of new information regarding the nature of the beak outside crown Aves.


Miller, C. V., Pittman, M., Kaye, T. G., Wang, X., Bright, J. A., & Zheng, X. (2020). Disassociated rhamphotheca of fossil bird Confuciusornis informs early beak reconstruction, stress regime, and developmental patterns. Communications Biology, 3(1),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 24, 2020
Online Publication Date Sep 21, 2020
Publication Date 2020-12
Deposit Date Sep 28, 2020
Publicly Available Date Sep 30, 2020
Journal Communications Biology
Print ISSN 2399-3642
Electronic ISSN 2399-3642
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 1
Article Number 519
Keywords Biomechanics; Evolution; Evolutionary developmental biology; Palaeontology; Zoology
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