Enantiornithes

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Enantiornitheans
Temporal range:
Early CretaceousLate Cretaceous, 130.7–66.0 Ma
Zhouornis hani.png
Fossil specimen of a bohaiornithid (Zhouornis hani)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Ornithothoraces
Clade: Enantiornithes
Walker, 1981
Subgroups

and see text

Enantiornithes is a group of extinct avialans ("birds" in the broad sense), the most abundant and diverse group known from the Mesozoic era.[3][4][5] Almost all retained teeth and clawed fingers on each wing, but otherwise looked much like modern birds externally. Over 80 species of enantiornitheans have been named, but some names represent only single bones, so it is likely that not all are valid. Enantiornitheans became extinct at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, along with hesperornithids and all other non-avian dinosaurs. Enantiornitheans are thought to have left no living descendants.

Discovery and naming

The first enantiornitheans to be discovered were incorrectly referred to modern bird groups. For example, the first known enantiornithean, Gobipteryx minuta, was originally considered a paleognath related to ostriches and tinamou.[6] Enantiornitheans were first recognized as a distinct lineage, or "subclass" of birds, by Cyril A. Walker in 1981. Walker made this discovery based on some partial remains from the late Cretaceous period of what is now Argentina, which he assigned to a new genus, Enantiornis, giving the entire group its name. Since the 1990s, many more complete enantiornitheans were discovered, and it was determined that a few previously described "birds" (e.g. Iberomesornis, Cathayornis, and Sinornis) were also enantiornitheans.

The name "Enantiornithes" means "opposite birds", from Ancient Greek enantios (ἐνάντιος) "opposite" + ornithes (όρνιθες) "birds" . The name was coined by Cyril Alexander Walker in his landmark paper which established the group.[7] In his paper, Walker explained what he meant by "opposite":

Perhaps the most fundamental and characteristic difference between the Enantiornithes and all other birds is in the nature of the articulation between the scapula [...] and the coracoid, where the 'normal' condition is completely reversed.[7]

This refers to an anatomical feature – the articulation of the shoulder bones – which has a concave-convex socket joint that is the reverse of that of modern birds. Specifically, in enantiornitheans, the facet where the scapula (shoulder blade) meets the coracoid (the primary bone of the shoulder girdle in vertebrates other than mammals) is a convex knob and the corresponding point on the shoulder blade is concave and dish-shaped. In modern birds, the way the joint articulates is reversed.[8]

Walker was not clear on his reasons for giving this name in the etymology section of his paper, and this ambiguity led to some confusion among later researchers. For example, Alan Feduccia stated in 1996:

The birds are so named because, among many distinctive features, there is a unique formation of the triosseal canal and the metatarsals are fused proximally to distally, the opposite of that in modern birds[9]

Feduccia's point about the tarsometatarsus (the combined upper foot and ankle bone) is correct, but Walker did not use this reasoning in his original paper. Walker never described the fusion of the tarsometatarsus as opposite, but rather as "Only partial". Also, it is not certain that enantiornitheans had triosseal canals, since no fossil preserves this feature.[3]

As a group, the Enantiornithes are often referred to as "enantiornithines". However, several scientists have noted that this is incorrect, because following the standard rules for forming the names of animal groups, it implies reference only to the subfamily Enantiornithinae. Following the naming conventions used for modern birds as well as extinct groups, it has been pointed out that the correct term is "enantiornithean".[10]

Origin and range

Enantiornitheans have been found on every continent except Antarctica. Fossils attributable to this group are exclusively Cretaceous in age, and it is believed that Enantiornitheans became extinct at the same time as their non-avialan dinosaur relatives. The earliest known enantiornitheans are from the Early Cretaceous of Spain (e.g. Noguerornis) and China (e.g. Protopteryx) and the latest from the Late Cretaceous of North and South America (e.g. Avisaurus and Enantiornis). The widespread occurrence of this group suggests that at least some enantiornitheans were able to cross oceans under their own power; they are the first known avialan lineage with a global distribution.

Description

A life restoration of Iberomesornis, an early enantiornithean

Many enantiornithean fossils are very fragmentary, and some species are only known from a piece of a single bone. Almost all specimens that are complete, in full articulation, and with soft tissue preservation are known from Las Hoyas in Cuenca, Spain and the Jehol group in Liaoning (China). Enantiornithean fossils have been found in both inland and marine sediments, suggesting that they were an ecologically diverse group. Enantiornitheans appear to have included waders, swimmers, granivores, insectivores, fishers, and raptors. The vast majority of enantiornithean species were small, between the size of a sparrow and a starling,[11] while the largest members of this clade are Pengornis houi,[12] Xiangornis shenmi[13] and Zhouornis hani.[11] At least a few much larger species may have existed, including a potentially crane-sized species known only from footprints in the Eumeralla Formation (and possibly also represented in the Wonthaggi Formation by a single furcula), which might belong to an enantiornithean.[14]

Extraordinary enantiornithean remains have also been preserved in Burmese amber deposits dated to 99 million years ago. These remains are among the most well-preserved of any mesozoic dinosaur. The first discovered amber-encased enantiornithean remains were two wings (see below) described in 2016.[15] Nearly the entire body of a hatchling enantiornithean was described in 2017[16] and another hatchling was described in 2018.[17]

Skull

A reconstruction of the skull of Bohaiornis, a bohaiornithid.

Given their wide range of habitats and diets, the skulls of enantiornitheans varied considerably between species. Enantiornithean skulls combined a unique suite of primitive and advanced features. As in more primitive avialans like Archaeopteryx, they retained several separate cranial bones, small premaxillae (bones of the snout tip) and most species had toothy jaws rather than toothless beaks. Only a few species, such as Gobipteryx minuta, were fully toothless and had beaks. They also had simple quadrate bones, a complete bar separating each orbit (eye hole) from each antorbital fenestra, and dentaries (the main toothed bones of the lower jaw) without forked rear tips. A squamosal bone is preserved in an indeterminate juvenile specimen, while a postorbital is preserved in Shenqiornis and Pengornis. In modern birds these bones are assimilated into the cranium. Some enantiornitheans may have had their temporal fenestrae (holes in the side of the head) merged into the orbits as in modern birds due to the postorbitals either not being present or not being long enough to divide the openings.[18] A quadratojugal bone, which in modern birds is fused to the jugal, is preserved in Pterygornis.[19] The presence of these primitive features of the skull would have rendered enantiornitheans capable of only limited cranial kinesis (the ability to move the jaw independent of the cranium).[20]

Wing

A micro-CT scan of an amber-encased enantiornithean wing showing rachises, skin, muscle and claws.

As a very large group of birds, enantiornitheans displayed a high diversity of different body plans based on differences in ecology and feeding, reflected in an equal diversity of wing forms, many paralleling adaptions to different lifestyles seen in modern birds. In general, the wings of enantiornitheans were advanced compared to more primitive avialans like Archaeopteryx, and displayed some features related to flight similar to those found in the lineage leading to modern birds, the Ornithuromorpha. While most enantiornitheans had claws on at least some of their fingers, many species had shortened hands, a highly mobile shoulder joint, and proportional changes in the wing bones similar to modern birds. Like modern birds, enantiornitheans had alulas, or "bastard wings", small forward-pointing arrangements of feathers on the first digit that granted higher maneuverability in the air and aided in precise landings.[21]

Two fledgling enantiornithean wings have been found preserved in amber from deposits in Myanmar. These are the first complete Mesozoic dinosaur remains preserved this way (a few isolated feathers are otherwise known, unassigned to any species), and one of the most exquisitely preserved dinosaurian fossils known.[22] The preserved wings show variations in feather pigment and prove that enantiornitheans had fully modern feathers, including barbs, barbules, and hooklets, and a modern arrangement of wing feather including long flight feathers, short coverts, a large alula and an undercoat of down.[15]

One enantiornithean fossil shows wing-like feather tufts on its legs, similar to Archaeopteryx. Leg feathers are also reminiscent of the four-winged dinosaur Microraptor, however, in the enantiornithean differ from the feathers are shorter, more disorganized (do not clearly form a wing) and only extend down to the ankle rather than along the foot.[23]

Tail

Fossil skeleton of Rapaxavis pani (a longipterygid) with a preserved pygostyle

Clarke et al. (2006) surveyed all enantiornithean fossils then known and concluded that none had preserved tail feathers that formed a lift-generating fan, as in modern birds. They found that all avialans outside of Euornithes (the clade they called Ornithurae) with preserved tail feathers had only short coverts or elongated paired tail plumes. They suggested that the development of the pygostyle in enantiornitheans must have been a function of tail shortening, not the development of a modern tail feather anatomy. These scientists suggested that a fan of tail feathers and the associated musculature needed to control them, known as the rectrical bulb, evolved alongside a short, triangular pygostyle, like the ones in modern birds, rather than the long, rod- or dagger-shaped pygostyles in more primitive avialans like enantiornitheans. Instead of a feather fan, most enantiornitheans had a pair of long specialized pinfeathers similar to those of the extinct Confuciusornis and certain birds-of-paradise.[24]

However, further discoveries showed that at least among primitive enantiornitheans, tail anatomy was more complex than previously thought. One enantiornithean, Shanweiniao, was initially interpreted as having at least four long tail feathers that overlapped each other[25] and might have formed a lift-generating surface similar to the tail fans of euornitheans,[26] though a later study indicates that Shanweiniao was more likely to have rachis-dominated tail feathers similar to feathers present in Paraprotopteryx.[27] Chiappeavis, a primitive pengornithid enantiornithean, had a fan of tail feathers similar to that of more primitive avialans like Sapeornis, suggesting that this might have been the ancestral condition, with pinfeathers being a feature evolved several times in early avialans for display purposes.[27] Another enantiornithean, Feitianius, also had an elaborate fan of tail feathers. More importantly, soft tissue preserved around the tail was interpreted as the remains of a rectrical bulb, suggesting that this feature was not in fact restricted to species with modern-looking pygostyles, but might have evolved much earlier than previously thought and been present in many enantiornitheans.[28]At least one genus of enantiornithean, Cruralispennia, had a modern-looking pygostyle but lacked a tail fan.[29]

Biology

Diet

Given the wide diversity of skull shape among enantiornitheans, many different dietary specializations must have been present among the group. Some, like Shenqiornis, had large, robust jaws suitable for eating hard-shelled invertebrates. In longipterygids, the snouts were long and thin with teeth restricted to the tip of the jaws, and they were likely mud-probers (small-toothed species) and fishers (large-toothed species). The short, blunt teeth of Pengornis were likely used to feed on soft-bodied arthropods.[18] The strongly hooked talons of bohaiornithids suggest that they were predators of small to medium-sized vertebrates, but their robust teeth instead suggest a diet of hard-shelled animals.[1]

A few specimens preserve actual stomach contents. Unfortunately, none of these preserve the skull, so direct correlation between their known diet and snout/tooth shape cannot be made. Eoalulavis was found to have the remains of exoskeletons from aquatic crustaceans preserved in its digestive tract,[30] and Enantiophoenix preserved corpuscles of amber among the fossilized bones, suggesting that this animal fed on tree sap, much like modern sapsuckers and other birds. The sap would have fossilized and become amber.[31]

Predation

A fossil from Spain reported by Sanz et al. in 2001 included the remains of four hatchling enantiornithean skeletons of three different species. They are substantially complete, very tightly associated, and show surface pitting of the bones that indicates partial digestion. The authors concluded that this association was a regurgitated pellet and, from the details of the digestion and the size, that the hatchlings were swallowed whole by a pterosaur or small theropod dinosaur. This was the first evidence that Mesozoic avialans were prey animals, and that some Mesozoic pan-avians regurgitated pellets like owls do today.[32]

Life history

Fossilized eggs of Gobipteryx minuta, Dinosaurium (Prague)

Known enantiornithean fossils include eggs,[33][34] embryos,[35] and hatchlings.[36] An enantiornithean embryo, still curled in its egg, has been reported from the Yixian Formation.[37] Juvenile specimens can be identified by a combination of factors: rough texture of their bone tips indicating portions which were still made of cartilage at the time of death, relatively small breastbones, large skulls and eyes, and bones which had not yet fused to one another.[38] Some hatchling specimens have been given formal names, including "Liaoxiornis delicatus"; however, Luis Chiappe and colleagues considered the practice of naming new species based on juveniles detrimental to the study of enantiornitheans, because it is nearly impossible to determine which adult species a given juvenile specimen belongs to, making any species with a hatchling holotype a nomen dubium.[38]

Together with hatchling specimens of the Mongolian Gobipteryx[39] and Gobipipus,[40] these finds demonstrate that enantiornithean hatchlings had the skeletal ossification, well-developed wing feathers, and large brain which correlate with precocial or superprecocial patterns of development in birds of today. In other words, enantiornitheans probably hatched from the egg already well developed and ready to run, forage, and possibly even fly at just a few days old.[38]

Analyses of enantiornithe bone histology have been conducted to determine the growth rates of these animals. A 2006 study of Concornis bones showed a growth pattern different from modern birds; although growth was rapid for a few weeks after hatching, probably until fledging, this small species did not reach adult size for a long time, probably several years.[41] Other studies have all supported the view that growth to adult size was slow, as it is in living precocial birds (as opposed to altricial birds, which are known to reach adult size quickly).[30] Studies of the rate of bone growth in a variety of enantiornitheans has shown that smaller species tended to grow faster than larger ones, the opposite of the pattern seen in more primitive species like Jeholornis and in non-avialan dinosaurs.[42] Some analyses have interpreted the bone histology to indicate that enantiornitheans may not have had fully avian endothermy, instead having an intermediate metabolic rate.[43]

Evidence of colonial nesting has been found in enantiornitheans, in sediments from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of Romania.[44] Evidence from nesting sites shows that enantiornitheans buried their eggs like modern megapodes, which is consistent with their inferred superprecocial adaptations.[45]

Flight

Because many enantiornitheans lacked complex tails and possessed radically different wing anatomy compared to modern birds, they have been the subject of several studies testing their flight capabilities.

Traditionally, they have been considered inferior flyers, due to the shoulder girdle anatomy being assumed to be more primitive and unable to support a ground-based launching mechanism,[46] as well as due to the absence of rectrices in many species.[24][26][47]

However, several studies have shown that they were efficient flyers, like modern birds, possessing a similarly complex nervous system and wing feather ligaments. Additionally, the lack of a complex tail appears to not have been very relevant for avian flight as a whole - some extinct birds like lithornids also lacked complex tail feathers but were good flyers,[48] and they appear to have been capable of a ground based launching.[49]

Due to the difference in sternal and shoulder girdle anatomy, many enantiornitheans used a flight style unlike that of any modern bird species[clarification needed], though more typical flight styles were present as well.[50]

Classification

Some researchers classify enantiornitheans, along with the true birds, in the class Aves. Others use the more restrictive crown group definition of Aves (which only includes neornithes, anatomically modern birds), and place enantiornitheans in the more inclusive group Avialae. Enantiornitheans were more advanced than Archaeopteryx, Confuciusornis, and Sapeornis, but in several respects they were more primitive than modern birds, perhaps following an intermediate evolutionary path.

A consensus of scientific analyses indicates that Enantiornithes is one of two major groups within the larger group Ornithothoraces. The other ornithothoracine group is Euornithes or Ornithuromorpha, which includes all living birds as a subset. This means that enantiornitheans were a successful branch of avialan evolution, but one that diversified entirely separately from the lineage leading to modern birds.[3]

Enantiornithean classification and taxonomy has historically been complicated by a number of factors. In 2010, paleontologists Jingmai O'Connor and Gareth Dyke outlined a number of criticisms against the prevailing practices of scientists failing to describe many specimens in enough detail for others to evaluate thoroughly. Some species have been described based on specimens which are held in private collections, making further study or review of previous findings impossible. Because it is often unfeasible for other scientists to study each specimen in person given the worldwide distribution of the Enantiornithes, and due to the many uninformative descriptions which have been published on possibly important specimens, many of these specimens become "functional nomina dubia".[51] Furthermore, many species have been named based on extremely fragmentary specimens, which would not be very informative scientifically even if they were described sufficiently. Over one-third of all named enantiornithean species are based on only a fragment of a single bone. O'Connor and Dyke argued that while these specimens can help expand knowledge of the time span or geographic range of the Enantiornithes and it is important to describe them, naming such specimens is "unjustifiable".[51]

Relationships

Enantiornithes is the sister group to Euornithes, and together they form a clade called Ornithothoraces. Most phylogenetic studies have recovered Enantiornithes as a monophyletic group distinct from the modern birds and their closest relatives. The 2002 phylogenetic analysis by Clarke and Norell, though, reduced the number of enantiornithean autapomorphies to just four.[52]

Enantiornithean systematics are highly provisional and notoriously difficult to study, due to the fact hat enantiornitheans tend to be extremely homoplastic, or very similar to each other in most of their skeletal features due to convergent evolution rather than common ancestry.[27] What appears fairly certain by now is that there were subdivisions within enantiornitheans possibly including some minor basal lineages in addition to the more advanced Euenantiornithes. The details of the interrelationship of all these lineages, indeed the validity of most, is disputed, although the Avisauridae, for one example, seem likely to constitute a valid group. Phylogenetic taxonomists have hitherto been very reluctant to suggest delimitations of enantiornithean clades.[53]

One such delineation named the Euenantiornithes, was defined by Chiappe (2002) as comprising all species closer to Sinornis than to Iberomesornis. Because Iberomesornis is often found to be the most primitive or basal enantiornithean, Euenantiornithes may be an extremely inclusive group, made up of all Enantiornithes except for Iberomesornis itself. Despite being in accordance with phylogenetic nomenclature, this definition of Euenantiornithes was severely criticized by some researchers, such as Paul Sereno, who called it "a ill-defined clade [...] a good example of a poor choice in a phylogenetic definition".[53]

The cladogram below was found by an analysis by Wang et al. in 2015, updated from a previous data set created by Jingmai O'Connor.[19]

Ornithothoraces

Euornithes

Enantiornithes

Protopteryx

Pengornithidae

Longipterygidae

Euenantiornithes

Eocathayornis

Elsornis

Dunhuangia

Fortunguavis

Bohaiornithidae

Pterygornis

Eoenantiornis

Cathayornis

Vescornis

Neuquenornis

Gobipteryx

Eoalulavis

Qiliania

Concornis

List of genera

Incertae sedis

Enantiornithean taxonomy is difficult to evaluate, and as a result few clades within the group are consistently found by phylogenetic analyses. Most enantiornitheans are not included in any specific family, and as such are listed here. Many of these have been considered euenantiornitheans, although the controversy behind this name means that it is not used consistently in studies of enantiornitheans.

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Abavornis 1998 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from coracoids
Alethoalaornis 2007 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Poorly known
Alexornis 1976 La Bocana Roja Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian)  Mexico One of the first enantiornitheans known. Once thought to be an ancient relative of rollers and woodpeckers
Catenoleimus 1998 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from a coracoid
Cathayornis 1992 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China One of the first Jehol biota enantiornitheans described. Known from many species, although some are now placed into their own genera. May have had a similar appearance and lifestyle to a pitta Cathayornis - early cretaceous Liaoning IMG 5191 Beijing Museum of Natural History.jpg
Cratoavis[54] 2015 Santana Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  Brazil A very well-preserved South American member of the group, complete with ribbon-like tail feathers
Cruralispennia[29] 2017 Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Hauterivian)  China Had an unusual ornithuromorph-like pygostyle and brush-like thigh feathers. One of the oldest enantiornitheans Ncomms14141-f1.jpg
Dalingheornis 2006 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Was well-adapted for climbing due to its heterodactyl feet, like those of a trogon
Dunhuangia[55] 2015 Xiagou Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China An enantiornithean from the Changma basin, an area which is unusually dominated by ornithuromorphs
Elbretornis 2009 Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Argentina Only known from wing bones. May be synonymous with other Lecho formation enantiornitheans
Elsornis 2007 Djadochta Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian)  Mongolia Although incomplete, its skeleton possesses three-dimensional preservation. Possibly flightless due to its wing proportions
Enantiornis 1981 Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Argentina Although only known from a few bones, this genus is the namesake of Enantiornithes. It was also one of the largest and last representative of the group prior to their extinction
Eoalulavis 1996 Las Hoyas (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  Spain Preserves feathers including an alula, a specialized type of feather which controls air flow over the wing
Eocathayornis 2002 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Once considered to be a basal close relative of Cathayornis, although now considered to be more distantly related
Eoenantiornis 1999 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Well-preserved but inconsistent in phylogenetic placement Eoenantiornis buhleri.JPG
Evgenavis 2014 Ilek Formation (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  Russia Known only from a tarsometatarsus which shares some features with those of enantiornitheans
Explorornis 1998 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from coracoids
Feitianius[28] 2015 Xiagou Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Possessed an elaborate set of tail feathers, unlike the paired ribbon-like feathers of most enantiornitheans
Flexomornis 2010 Woodbine Formation (Late Cretaceous, Cenomanian)  United States ( Texas) One of the oldest North American avialans found, albeit known only from fragmentary remains
Fortunguavis[56] 2014 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Had robust bones, including feet and claws which may have been adapted for climbing trees
Grabauornis[57] 2015 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  China The proportions of this enantiornithean's wings as well as the presence of an alula suggest that it was a good flier
Gracilornis 2011 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A possible relative of Cathayornis with characteristically slender bones
Gurilynia 1999 Nemegt Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Mongolia A poorly known enantiornithean, but evidently a large and late-surviving member of the group
Holbotia[58] 2015 Andaikhudag Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  Mongolia Considered a small pterosaur since its discovery in 1977 until it received a formal description in 2015. Possessed unique neck vertebrae and a primitive palate
Houornis 1997 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Once considered to be dubious or a species of Cathayornis, although a 2015 study considered it to be a valid genus[59]
Huoshanornis 2010 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China May have been a very maneuverable flier due to the structure of its hand and sternum
Iberomesornis 1992 Las Hoyas (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  Spain One of the first enantiornitheans known from decent remains. Also one of the oldest and most primitive members of the group Iberomesornis-model.jpg
Incolornis 1998 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from coracoids. One species was once considered to belong to Enantiornis
Junornis[60] 2017 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China So well preserved that its flight pattern could be reconstructed using the proportions of its feathers and wings Junornis.PNG
Kizylkumavis 1984 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of the many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from a humerus fragment
Largirostrornis 1997 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Possibly related to Cuspirostrisornis or a synonym of Cathayornis
Lectavis 1993 Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Argentina A large and long-legged member of the group, proportionally similar to modern shorebirds
Lenesornis 1996 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from a synsacrum fragment. Originally considered to belong to Ichthyornis
Liaoningornis 1996 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Originally believed to be an ornithuran, but now considered a relative of Eoalulavis
Longchengornis 1997 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China May have been a synonym of Cathayornis
Martinavis 2007 Grès à Reptiles Formation, Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  France  Argentina Although known only from humeri, this genus was large and lived in a broad range
Microenantiornis 2017 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A small member of the group which possessed several primitive and derived features compared to other enantiornitheans
Monoenantiornis[61] 2016 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Known from a juvenile specimen which depicts how various features developed in enantiornitheans as they age
Nanantius 1986 Toolebuc Formation (Early Cretaceous, Albian)  Australia Fragmentary, but may have been a seabird because remains from this genus have been found as ichthyosaur gut content
Noguerornis 1989 El Montsec (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  Spain Preserves impressions of a propatagium, a skin flap on the shoulder which forms part of a wing
Otogornis 1993 Yijinholuo Formation (Early Cretaceous)  China Poorly known
Paraprotopteryx 2007 Qiaotou member of the Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian?)  China Seemingly had four ribbon-like tail feathers instead of only two as in most enantiornitheans
Parvavis[62] 2014 Jiangdihe Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Santonian)  China Small but fully mature at the time of its death. The only described Chinese enantiornithean dated to the late Cretaceous
Piscivorenantiornis[63] 2017 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Known from a disarticulated skeleton preserved overlying a piece of stomach content composed of fish bones, which may have been its last meal
Protopteryx 2000 Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Hauterivian)  China One of the oldest and most primitive members of the group
Pterygornis[19] 2016 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China One disarticulated skeleton from this genus possesses well-preserved bones of the skull, including a quadratojugal
Qiliania 2011 Xiagou Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Some of this genus's remains include well-preserved hindlimbs. the species names, Q. graffini, is named after Greg Graffin from the band Bad Religion
Sazavis 1989 Bissekty Formation (Late Cretaceous, Turonian to Coniacian)  Uzbekistan One of many fragmentary Bissekty enantiornitheans, known only from a tibiotarsus (shin bone)
Sinornis 1992 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China One of the first Jehol biota enantiornitheans described. Similar to Cathayornis but usually considered to be distinct Sinornis2.jpg
Xiangornis 2012 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China The hand of this genus was similar to that of ornithuromorphs, likely through convergent evolution. A large member of the group
Yuanjiawaornis[64] 2015 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China One of the largest enantiornitheans known from decent remains
Yungavolucris 1993 Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Argentina Had a large and unusually wide tarsometatarsal (ankle bone) Yungavolucris holotype tarsometatarsus.png

Longipterygidae

The Longipterygidae was a family of long-snouted early Cretaceous enantiornitheans, with teeth only at the tips of the snout. They are generally considered to be fairly basal members of the group.[25]

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Boluochia 1995 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Originally mistakenly believed to have possessed a hooked beak
Dapingfangornis 2006 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China May have had a thorn-like structure on its forehead
Longipteryx 2001 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China The most common and well-known member of the family Longipteryx chaoyangensis - early cretaceous Liaoning IMG 5197 Beijing Museum of Natural History.jpg
Longirostravis 2004 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Like other longipterygids, it possessed a thin snout which may have been used for probing for invertebrates in mud or bark
Rapaxavis 2009 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Specialized for perching due to the structure of its feet
Shanweiniao 2009 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Acquired multiple tail feathers which may have been capable of generating lift as in modern birds Shanweiniao cooperorum.jpg
Shengjingornis 2012 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A large member of the family

Pengornithidae

The Pengornithidae was a family of large early enantiornitheans. They had numerous small teeth and numerous primitive features which are lost in most other enantiornitheans.[2] Some studies claim that they may not be enantiornitheans at all, but rather ornithuromorphs, closer to modern birds.

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Chiappeavis[27] 2015 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Possessed a fan-shaped tail composed of many feathers
Eopengornis 2014 Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Hauterivian)  China The oldest known member of the family, and one of the oldest putative enantiornitheans known. Possessed extremely well-preserved tail ribbons
Parapengornis[65] 2015 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Proposed to have a woodpecker-like lifestyle due to features of the foot and tail Parapengornis holotype.png
Pengornis 2008 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China The first pengornithid discovered, and also one of the largest enantiornitheans known from decent remains

Bohaiornithidae

Bohaiornithids were large but geologically short-lived early enantiornitheans, with long, hooked talons and robust teeth with curved tips. They may have been equivalent to birds of prey, although this interpretation is open to much debate.[1]

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Bohaiornis 2011 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Originally considered to have been preserved with gastroliths, although later these were found to be mineral concretions
Linyiornis[66] 2016 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A possible member of the family, known from a well-preserved skeleton complete with structures believed to be developing eggs
Longusunguis 2014 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A fairly typical member of the family
Parabohaiornis 2014 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A close relative of Bohaiornis
Shenqiornis 2010 Qiaotou member of the Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian?)  China The first known member of the family, although not considered a close relative of Bohaiornis until a few years later. Preserves a large postorbital bone
Sulcavis 2013 Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A close relative of Shenqiornis with grooved enamel on its teeth, unique among fossil birds
Zhouornis 2013 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China A large member of the family with a well-preserved braincase

Gobipterygidae

This family may be monotypic (composed of only one genus or species), as some members of the group are obscure or poorly described and may be synonymous with its type species, Gobipteryx minuta.

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Gobipteryx 1974 Barun Goyot Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian)  Mongolia A toothless advanced enantiornithean, possessing a robust beak which convergently evolved with those of modern birds
Jibeinia 1997 Qiaotou member of the Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian?)  China Poorly known and described from a skeleton which has now been lost. May have been synonymous with Vescornis
Vescornis 2004 Qiaotou member of the Huajiying Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian?)  China A small and short-snouted enantiornithean which may be synonymous with Jibeinia

Avisauridae

Avisauridae is subjected to two differing definitions of varying inclusiveness. The more inclusive definition, which follows Cau & Arduini (2008), is used here. Avisaurids were long-lasting and widespread enantiornitheans, which are mainly distinguished by specific features of their tarsometatarsals (ankle bones). The largest and most advanced members of the group survived in North and South America up until the end of the Cretaceous, yet are very fragmentary compared to some earlier taxa.

Name Year Formation Location Notes Images
Avisaurus 1985 Hell Creek Formation, Two Medicine Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian to Maastrichtian)  United States ( Montana) The eponymous avisaurid, as well as one of the largest members of the family. Originally considered a non-avialan dinosaur Avisaurus and Brachychampsa by tomozsaurus.jpg
Bauxitornis 2010 Csehbánya Formation (Late Cretaceous, Santonian)  Hungary Fragmentary but unique in the structure of its tarsometatarsus Bauxitornis.jpg
Concornis 1992 Las Hoyas (Early Cretaceous, Barremian)  Spain The oldest and most completely known possible member of the family Concornis lacustris 438.jpg
Cuspirostrisornis 1997 Jiufotang Formation (Early Cretaceous, Aptian)  China Originally mistakenly believed to have possessed a pointed beak
Enantiophoenix 2008 Oadi al Gabour Formation (Late Cretaceous, Cenomanian)  Lebanon May have fed on tree sap as it was preserved in association with amber beads
Halimornis 2002 Mooreville Chalk Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian)  United States ( Alabama) Would have lived in a coastal environment
Intiornis 2010 Las Curtiembres Formation (Late Cretaceous, Campanian)  Argentina Although closely related to some of the largest avisaurids, members of this genus were very small birds Intiornis holotype left foot.png
Mystiornis 2011 Ilek Formation (Early Cretaceous, Barremian to Aptian)  Russia Possesses a myriad of features from various groups in Paraves, although most closely resembles avisaurids among sampled groups
Neuquenornis 1994 Bajo de la Carpa Formation (Late Cretaceous, Santonian)  Argentina Possessed long wings and a reverse hallux, indicating good flight and perching abilities
Soroavisaurus 1993 Lecho Formation (Late Cretaceous, Maastrichtian)  Argentina A very close relative of Avisaurus

Dubious genera and notable unnamed specimens

  • "Camptodontus yangi": A longipterygid described in 2010. The name "Camptodontus" is currently occupied by a beetle, and is used as an informal name for the specimen until a formal scientific name is acquired.
  • Gobipipus reshetovi: Described in 2013 from embryo specimens within eggshells from the Barun Goyot Formation of Mongolia. These specimens were very similar to embryonic Gobipteryx specimens, although the describers of Gobipipus (a set of controversial paleontologists including Evgeny Kurochkin and Sankar Chatterjee) consider it distinct.[67]
  • Hebeiornis fengningensis: A synonym of Vescornis due to having been described from the same specimen. Despite having been described in 1999, 5 years prior to the description of Vescornis, the description was so poor compared to the description of Vescornis that the latter name is considered to take priority by most authors. As a result, the name Hebeiornis is considered a nomen nudum ("naked name").
  • "Liaoxiornis delicatus": Described in 1999 from an enantiornithean specimen found in the Yixian Formation. This specimen was originally considered to be a tiny adult, but later found to be a hatchling. Other specimens have henceforth been assigned to the genus. Due to a lack of distinguishing feature, many paleontologists have considered this genus an undiagnostic nomen dubium.
  • LP-4450: A juvenile of an indeterminate enantiornithean from the El Montsec Formation of Spain. Its 2006 description studied the histology of the skeleton, while later studies reported a squamosal bone present in the specimen but unknown in other enantiornitheans.
  • IVPP V 13939: Briefly described in 2004, this Yixian enantiornithean had advanced pennaceous feathers on its legs, similar to (albeit shorter than) those of other paravians such as Microraptor and Anchiornis.[23]
  • DIP-V-15100 and DIP-V-15101: Two different wings from hatchling specimens which were described in 2015. They attracted a significant amount of media attention upon their description. They were preserved in exceptional details due to having been trapped within Burmese amber for approximately 99 million years.[15]
  • HPG-15-1: A partial corpse of a hatchling enantiornithean also preserved in Burmese amber. Although indeterminate, it attracted even more media attention than the two wings upon its description in 2017.[16]
  • CUGB P1202: An indeterminate juvenile bohaiornithid from the Jiufotang Formation. A 2016 analysis of its feathering found elongated putative melanosomes, suggesting that a large portion of its feathering was iridescent.
  • DIP-V-15102: Another corpse of an indeterminate hatchling preserved in Burmese amber. Described in early 2018.[17]
  • MPCM-LH-26189 a/b: A partial skeleton of a hatchling from Las Hoyas in Spain, including both slab and counter-slab components. Its 2018 description revealed how various features developed in enantiornitheans as they aged. Such features include the ossification of the sternum from various smaller bones, and the fusion of tail vertebrae into a pygostyle.

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