Giant prehistoric geese the size of small plane
By Richard Alleyne
Giant prehistoric geese the size of small aircraft once flew over Britain, scientists have discovered.
Dasornis, which had a 16 ft wingspan and sharp teeth, lived 50 million years ago and was related to present-day ducks and geese.
Once it skimmed the waters which covered what is now London, Essex and Kent, snapping up fish and squid with its bony-toothed beak. Scientists announced the discovery of one of the best preserved Dasornis fossil skulls buried in clay on the Isle of Sheppey. Dasornis was in many ways similar to the modern albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any living bird, but research has shown that its closest cousins are ducks and geese.
Dr Gerald Mayr, from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, who described the find today in the journal Palaeontology, said: "Imagine a bird like an ocean-going goose, almost the size of a small plane. "By today's standards these were pretty bizarre animals, but perhaps the strangest thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like projections along the cutting edges of the beak. "No living birds have true teeth - which are made of enamel and dentine - because their distant ancestors did away with them more than 100 million years ago, probably to save weight and make flying easier. "But the bony-toothed birds, like Dasornis, are unique among birds in that they reinvented tooth-like structures by evolving these bony spikes. "These birds probably skimmed across the surface of the sea, snapping up fish and squid on the wing. "With only an ordinary beak these would have been difficult to keep hold of, and the pseudo-teeth evolved to prevent meals slipping away." The fossil is in a collection at the Karlsruhe Natural History Museum, Germany.