Halcyornis toliapicus (aves: Lower Eocene, England) indicates advanced neuromorphology in Mesozoic Neornithes - NMS Research Repository
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Halcyornis toliapicus (aves: Lower Eocene, England) indicates advanced neuromorphology in Mesozoic Neornithes

3 March 2011


Our recent X-ray micro computer-tomographic (μCT) investigations of Prophaethon shrubsolei and Odontopteryx toliapica from the Lower Eocene London Clay Formation of England revealed the avian brain to have been essentially modern in form by 55 Ma, but that an important vision-related synapomorphy of living birds, the eminentia sagittalis of the telencephalon, was poorly developed. This evidence suggested that the feature probably appeared close to the end of the Mesozoic. Here we use μCT analysis to describe the endocranium of Halcyornis toliapicus, also from the London Clay Formation. The affinities of Halcyornis have been hotly debated, with the taxon referred to the Charadriiformes (Laridae), Coraciiformes (Alcedinidae, and its own family Halcyornithidae) and most recently that Halcyornithidae may be a possible senior synonym of Pseudasturidae (Pan-Psittaciformes). Unlike Prophaethon and Odontopteryx, the eminentia sagittalis of Halcyornis is strongly developed and comparable to that of living species. Like those London Clay taxa, the eminentia sagittalis occupies a rostral position on the telencephalon. The senses of Halcyornis appear to have been well developed. The length of the cochlear duct of the inner ear indicates a hearing sensitivity within the upper range of living species, and enlarged olfactory lobes suggest a reasonable reliance on sense of smell. The optic nerves were especially well developed which, together with the strong development of the eminentia sagittalis, indicates a high degree of visual specialization in Halcyornis. The advanced development of the eminentia sagittalis further supports a Mesozoic age for the appearance of this structure and associated neural architectural complexity found in extant Aves. The eminentia sagittalis of living Psittaciformes is situated caudally on the telencephalon, making a Pan-Psittaciformes relationship unlikely for Halcyornis


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