A bizarre Early Cretaceous enantiornithine bird with unique crural feathers and an ornithuromorph plough-shaped pygostyle
Enantiornithes are the most successful clade of Mesozoic birds. Here, we describe a new enantiornithine bird, Cruralispennia multidonta gen. et sp. nov., from the Protopteryx-horizon of the Early Cretaceous Huajiying Formation of China. Despite being among the oldest known enantiornithines, Cruralispennia displays derived morphologies that are unexpected at such an early stage in the evolution of this clade. A plough-shaped pygostyle, like that of the Ornithuromorpha, evolved convergently in the Cruralispennia lineage, highlighting the homoplastic nature of early avian evolution. The extremely slender coracoid morphology was previously unknown among Early Cretaceous enantiornithines but is common in Late Cretaceous taxa, indicating that by 131 million years ago this clade had already experienced considerable morphological differentiation. Cruralispennia preserves unusual crural feathers that are proximally wire-like with filamentous distal tips, a new morphotype previously unknown among fossil or modern feathers, further increasing the known diversity of primitive feather morphologies.