Following a paper released this week, scientists determined that the early bird gets to mostly probably honk according to results gathered from ancient voice box analysis.
The study was carried out by a team of University of Texas researchers that analyzed the oldest as yet found syrinx fossil dating from sometime in the Mesozoic era.
The syrinx, or a bird’s vocal box, is a system of stiff, cartilage rings that are surrounded by soft tissues that vibrate. The vibrations thus produced are the songs and sounds so appreciated in modern-day birds.
But the ancient syrinx’s study ended on a very different note after scientist studied the asymmetrical shape of the early bird and determined that the extinct species would most likely have honked, not unfamiliar from geese or ducks, but a far cry from today’s thrills.
The study determined that the bird most probably produced the honking-like noises through the asymmetrical syrinx’s left and right parts, as it had two sound sources.
The bird ancestor to provide these unexpected findings is an Antarctic waterfowl, of Vegavis iaai, which was found back in 1992 on Vega Island, Antarctica. Although the fossilized remains had been studied, the presence of its voice box, the oldest ever found, was noticed only in 2013.
Its discoverer was Julia Clarke, an Austin Jackson School of Geosciences paleontologist, that together with her team has been analyzing and mapping the find for the better part of two years.
Voice boxes are hard to conserve as cartilage doesn’t have the same degree of fossilization as, for example, bones even if the high mineral content contained by the rings could sometimes permit it. The absence of such boxes in other non-avian fossils could provide researchers with an important clue as to how these animals evolved.
By analyzing the existing fossilized remains, new data about the extinct animal’s sound features can be gathered and then compared to the modern bird knowledge, so that a timeline of their evolution can start to be sketched.
Clarke also noted that an in-depth analysis of the bird’s syrinx and vocal behavior could also help explain other of the bird’s anatomical features, for example, their brains’ increase, as it was determined that the flyers developed bigger brains throughout their evolution.
Scientists are also working with a team of engineers so that models of the sound organs can be produced, models that will once again give a voice, as unusual as it may be, to the Mesozoic bird.
Image Source: Wikimedia