A newly identified bird fossil from northern Poland weighs over 14 pounds and is about the size of a grown man. One theory is that it might have been called Wonderchicken because its protruding bones are reminiscent of the gesture nature actually makes.

Or it might be Wonderfoot, which sounds vaguely like the trademark of German sport carmaker Porsche. Not too good for the economy of motion, that one.

The fossil is a new species of exotitan, a group of extinct species that lived alongside dinosaurs like velociraptors and have been named to honour the vertebrate segment of their genus. For Wonderfoot, it looks like the names of two other newly identified exotitan species were cast aside. They’re now sharing a genus called Lbbi, a quavering body and slow tread.

Curiously, Wonderfoot’s tooth comes from an extinct family of long-necked, oddball dinosaurs called the Heimtzu. While this feature might be referred to as strange, it probably proves in a scientific sense that one could leave an imprint on, say, stone after being chomped on by an angry winged carnivore. It’s a bizarre trait in a bird, though one that’s certainly not as bizarre as the way we pronounce it: “Wah-tick-let-ya.”

As the name suggests, Wonderfoot died an ancient death — its fossilized remains unearthed in 1939, two years after a German POW burned all the surrounding bones in an operation to destroy information for a Soviet general.

The new species is also the oldest evidence yet of a modern bird. Last year, a piece of a bird fossil that dates back 67 million years was discovered in South Africa, making it the earliest known modern bird known to science.

And while we’re on the subject of oddities, there’s a lovable little bird from New Zealand that made it all the way to the Top 10 list of Best Things Ever: Little Grey Fox.

This article was first published in Scientific American and was republished here with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the New York Times.


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Dr. Sten Tookoff has been studying the living connections between life on Earth and people since he got his PhD in molecular biology more than 40 years ago. Previously, the oldest known fossil of a modern bird was in Hungary, dating back about 30 million years. The naming of the first modern bird, named Jimmy by mistake, spooked Tookoff: “It’s as if someone grabbed a gun, held it to my head and said, ‘Call that a bird now.’”

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