This bird had the first beak, with teeth

If you wanted to know what the first bird beak looked like, today's your lucky day. The Ichthyornis dispar was the subject of a paper published this week. Ichthyornis dispar is the name of a creature with the now-oldest bird beak in the world. "The first beak was a horn-covered pincer tip at the end of the jaw," said researcher and Yale paleontologist Bhart-Anjan Bhullar. "The remainder of the jaw was filled with teeth."

"At its origin, the beak was a precision grasping mechanism that served as a surrogate hand as the hands transformed into wings," said Bhullar. The study provides a connecting point between pre-bird creatures with teeth and the modern beaked bird, completely toothless. The animal that was subject to this study probably looked something like a modern seagull – but with a whole bunch of sharp teeth inside its mouth – freaky!

The bird itself isn't new to science – not entirely, anyway. Ichthyornis dispar was first discovered in the 1870s and first described and named by naturalist O.C. Marsh. A full bird hadn't been fully assembled back then – and no significant bits of the bird were found in the next 100 or so years.

Until now, when Bhullar and crew reported on a new complete skull and two previously "overlooked" skull pieces. The two pieces they discovered had been sitting in Yale's collection untouched for decades. That sort of thing happens more often than you'd expect.

With these newly discovered bits of the 100-million-year-old bird, this team of paleontologists put a new chapter in the history books.

"The fossil record provides our only direct evidence of the evolutionary transformations that have given rise to modern forms," said co-lead-author of the study, Daniel Field of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. "This extraordinary new specimen reveals the surprisingly late retention of dinosaur-like features in the skull of Ichthyornis—one of the closest-known relatives of modern birds from the Age of Reptiles."

Also co-lead-author on the study was Michael Hanson of Yale. Co-authors were David Burnham of the University of Kansas, Laura Wilson and Kristopher Super of Fort Hays State University, Dana Ehret of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and Jun Ebersole of the McWane Science Center. More information on this subject can be found in the paper "Complete Ichthyornis skull illuminates mosaic assembly of the avian head" as published in Nature (2018).