In 2005 scientists were able to announce in the
journal Nature that ducks may have been paddling about in primeval
swamps when T rex was king of the dinosaurs.
Fossil remains of a bird which lived 70 million
years ago appeared to belong to a relative of modern ducks and geese.
The partial skeleton, discovered on Vega Island, western Antarctica,
was likely to stir up controversy (Antarctica was located further
north at the time and enjoyed cool but habitable summer temperatures).
Many scientists of the time were of the opinion that modern bird
lineages did not evolve until the end of the dinosaurs' reign.
Although the first known primitive bird,
Archaeopteryx, lived 150 million years ago in the Jurassic
period, researchers disagreed over when modern birds made their
first appearance. One camp believed that many modern bird lineages
existed as long ago as 100 million years. According to this vision,
familiar-looking birds would have been running and flying alongside
In contrast, the other camp thought that, although
birds did exist during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, they
were largely wiped out by whatever killed the dinosaurs. According
to this theory, only a few lineages made it through the mass
extinction and, subsequently, these lonely survivors blossomed into
all the modern bird families we know today.
The fossil records were so far in support of the
latter version, known as the 'big bang' theory of bird evolution.
But if the new find, known as Vegavis iaai, really was a
relative of the duck, it would lend considerable weight to the
idea that modern birds lived with dinosaurs and survived the
catastrophe which killed the 'terrible lizards'.