Thursday, August 26, 2010

Creature Feature: Hoatzin.

Raise your hand if you know what an Archaeopteryx is.

If you have no clue, an Archaeopteryx is a small feathered dinosaur. The fossil was found in Germany. It had the body of a theropod (raptor-like, bipedal) dinosaur and distinct feathery imprints around its forelimbs and tail. It is thought of as the main piece of evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds, even though several other feathered dinosaurs were found after Archie's discovery.

Now, tell me that this creature does not look like a slightly more evolved version of Archaeopteryx:

Meet the hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin). It is native to the Amazon rainforest and the surrounding swamps. Some might live in your nightmares, too.

This animal looks weird all around. The last time we saw red eyes surrounded by blue skin was on the cassowary, AKA 'that herbivorous avian death machine from Australia.' Unlike on most birds, you can easily see the hoatzin's external ears. It also has a crazy, non-sexually dimorphic crest.

All things considered, a pretty bird.

Though the hoatzin bears a strong resemblance to some sort of pheasant, the two birds are unrelated. Nobody knows what other birds are related to the hoatzin. Centuries have gone by and it is STILL up for debate. Genetic testing has actually made this problem worse. Thus far, science's best guess is that hoatzin are related to doves.

Not seeing much of a resemblance...

Chances are that, like a few other animals that this blog has covered, the hoatzin is a living fossil with very few extant relatives. To support this, its chicks sport clawed wings like Archaeopteryx.

Lucky birds.

Weirdness is skin deep in the hoatzin. The bird has a gut like a cow and smells like one, too, earning it the name 'Stinkbird.' Despite being native to the Amazon, it is hardly threatened; even the natives hesitate to eat it because it smells and tastes so bad. Yet another reason to be thankful that we do not yet have Smell-O-Vision!

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