Messel Fossil Bird Messelornis

Messelornis cristata

Aves, Messelornithidae

Geological Time: Eocene

Size: 220 mm in length

Fossil Site: Messel Pit, Darmstadt, Germany

Messelornis cristataDescription: This is a fine example of a rarely-seen bird from the oil shale Messel Pit deposits of Darmstadt, Germany, known as Messelornis cristata. Birds are rarely preserved in the fossil record due to the fragility of their hollow bones. This one is the patronymic member of a family once thought related to the rails, but now are thought to have closer affinities to the cranes and bitterns. Interestingly, only adult specimens have been found, indicating that they probably nested away from Lake Messel proper, possibly in the surrounding forests. Other members of the family have been found in France and North America.

These ~50 million year old deposits are famous for their exceptionally well-preserved organisms, some of which have the remains of their last meal preserved within. Soft tissue preservation is a common event in material from the pit, and that is hinted at here in the possibly outline of the crest which served to give the species its name. Interestingly, sometimes the soft tissue outline is preserved even if the skull bones are not. Due to this fragility of the oil shale, this specimen, like all from the locality, has been embedded in resin to allow preparation. The fossil is then flipped over and the matrix removed on the opposite side. A final coating of resin serves to preserve the specimen as seen here. This one has had the back side of the resin and the front portion not bearing bones colored to more easily bring out the details.

click to enlarge

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