University of Tübingen: New genus of extinct geese discovered

Scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen have discovered the fossil remains of a previously unknown genus of prehistoric geese in the Hammerschmiede clay pit in the Allgäu. Allgoviachen tortonica , as the researchers called the new species, populated southern Germany around eleven million years ago. The finds allow the conclusion that the animals lived on the ground, but also in trees and were about the size of today’s Egyptian geese. A corresponding study was recently published in the journal Historical Biology .

What is unusual about the find, which was uncovered during excavations in 2020, is the completely preserved leg, as Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen reported: “Such complete finds are very rare in fossil geese around the world.” the shape of their claws is revealing for the way of life of Allgoviachen tortonica .

These differ significantly from the claws of modern-day geese, which have a predominantly swimming lifestyle, according to the study leader, Dr. Gerald Mayr from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt explained. The researchers conclude that the animals had strong tendons that they could use to bend their claws: “Such claw flexion enables them to hold on to branches or tree trunks floating in a river. Similar to whistling geese alive today, which have similar claws, they probably possessed the ability to perch in trees when at rest.”

Four species of geese, which also include ducks and swans, were found in the hammer mill. Allgoviachen tortonica is the largest species with a weight of around two kilograms and a body length of 70 centimeters. The scientific name means something like Allgäu goose from the Tortonian, the epoch from which the find dates. “Their phylogenetic position is currently still unclear,” said Mayr: “Despite similarities to living half-gooses and the mute glossy goose, a number of primitive characteristics indicate that Allgoviaches are not closely related to any of the geese birds alive today.”

A dip in the river may have been fatal
Today’s clay pit was crossed by rivers several million years ago. The entire leg of the find was severed in the thigh area. The scientists raise the possibility that this could be the remains of one of the three-foot-tall snapping turtles that populated the Hammersmith River in abundance. “The findings are compatible with the Allgäu goose biting off the leg during a swimming phase. The complete preservation of all bones speaks in favor of this scenario,” explains Thomas Lechner, head of the excavation.

Normally, the skeletal elements belonging to an individual have been transported by the river over distances of many meters. So did the wings and sternum bones of a very small species of duck, Mioquerquedula , which were found over a distance of ten meters in the course of the excavation. Mioquerquedula is a true pygmy, smaller than the smallest pygmy ducks alive today. It had a body length of about 25 centimeters and probably weighed only 300 grams. Today’s dwarf ducks such as the Hottentot duck ( Spatula hottentota ) or the African dwarf duck ( Nettapus auritus ) live exclusively in the tropical areas of Africa.

Six bones stand side by side for comparison
“The latest finds again underscore the global importance of the Hammerschmiede clay pit for animal research in the period eleven to twelve million years ago,” said Professor Böhme: “So far we have been able to find more than 140 different vertebrate species at this site, including the first one Great apes Danuvius guggenmosi walking upright .” The excavations in the hammer mill have been taking place since 2011 under the direction of Professor Madelaine Böhme. Since 2020 they have been financially supported by the Free State of Bavaria.

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