66m-year-old syrinx of Vegavis iaai suggests that creature could honk and quack and confirms some modern bird groups lived alongside the dinosaurs
The oldest evidence of a birds voice box has been found among the fossilised remains of a duck-like creature that lived more than 66 million years ago.
The discovery suggests that the animal was able to make a variety of sounds similar to those of current day ducks, including quacks.
The human voice box, or larynx, sits near the top of the windpipe. However, the vocal organ of birds – known as a syrinx – lies deep within the chest near the heart, where the windpipe branches to the lungs. Composed of cartilage rings and soft tissue, it allows birds to make a wide variety of calls, from songs to honks.
But little is known about the origin of the organ.
Now scientists says they have found the remains of a syrinx within the fossilised, partial skeleton of a bird, known as Vegavis iaai, that lived in the age of the dinosaurs.
What was really striking is that it is basically all of the informative parts of the voice box; it is the business part of the syrinx, said Julia Clarke, first author of the new research from the University of Texas at Austin.
The findings, she added, offer important clues as to the evolution of the vocal organ of birds, and potentially of the communication strategies and social interactions the syrinx underpins.