Earliest Bird Pollinator Found in Germany
Fossilized 47 million years ago, it was the size of a hummingbird—but unlike any living species.
Today's hummingbirds ferry pollen from blossom to blossom, helping flowering plants reproduce. Their occupational ancestors, however, were birds of a different feather. According to a paper published in this week's Biology Letters, a fossilized bird from millions of years ago offers the earliest, most direct evidence to date of bird pollination.
The discovery, uncovered in Germany's fossil-rich Messel Pit, reveals a three-inch-long (eight-centimeter) bird—about the size of a hummingbird you see at a backyard bird feeder—with scraps of iridescent insects and hundreds of grains of flower pollen in its stomach. That last supper would be familiar to today's avian pollinators, which siphon up large quantities of flower nectar but also eat pollen and insects, says the paper's lead author,