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Temporal range:
Late CretaceousEarly Paleogene, 73–61.6 Ma
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Odontoanserae
Clade: Anserimorphae
Order: Vegaviiformes
Worthy et al., 2017
Family: Vegaviidae
Agnolín et al., 2017

Vegaviidae is an extinct basal family of anserimorph birds which existed from the Late Cretaceous to the Early Paleogene periods with fossils found in Canada,[1] Chile, New Zealand, and Antarctica.[2]

Previously the genera Neogaeornis and Polarornis were classified as stem-loons based on the similarities in the anatomy of the leg structure.[3][4][5] However, there were some criticism to these assertions as the material are from incomplete specimens from Antarctica lacking several important loon characteristics.[6][7]

In 2017 Agnolín and colleagues perform a phylogenetic analysis of these genera in addition to the newly discovered Australornis and Vegavis, the latter genus of which a more complete specimen has been found.[8] This allowed the team to do anatomical comparisons between these genera.[2] They have found support of them making up a family of birds showing specializations to diving, classified as the sister taxon to crown Anseriformes.[2] This is evidence that some families of modern birds have crossed the K–Pg boundary unaffected by the extinction event that occurred.[2] The authors also stated this is further evidence of Gondwana having an important role for the evolution of modern birds.[2]

Another 2017 paper by Worthy et al. that focuses on the evolution and phylogenetic relationships of giant fowl has found weak support in finding the vegaviids to be the sister taxon to Gastornithiformes (which the authors included Gastornithidae and mihirungs in the order).[9]

In the description and phylogenetic placement of Maaqwi from Sandy et al. (2017) found an alternative position for vegaviids where the data supported placing them as stem-birds in the more exclusive clade Ornithurae.[1] If so this would significantly imply vegaviids were the only group of stem-birds to have survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event alongside modern or crowned birds.[1]

In 2018 Mayr and colleagues did a review of vegaviid systematics stating that while Vegavis and Polarornis are sister genera based on overall similarities in their femur and tibiotarsal bones, the inclusion of the other species is poorly supported and may not be vegaviids at all.[10] Furthermore, comparison of the plesiomorphic traits of the pterygoid and the mandible does not seem to firmly established anseriform or galloanserine affinities for Vegaviidae.[10] Mayr et al. (2018) commented to try and classify all southern hemisphere birds into a single clade is premature as it may not illustrate the complex relationships and the convergent evolution birds have undergone.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Sandy M. S. McLachlan; Gary W. Kaiser; Nicholas R. Longrich (2017). "Maaqwi cascadensis: A large, marine diving bird (Avialae: Ornithurae) from the Upper Cretaceous of British Columbia, Canada". PLoS ONE. 12 (12): e0189473. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0189473. PMC 5722380. PMID 29220405.
  2. ^ a b c d e Agnolín, F.L.; Egli, F.B.; Chatterjee, S.; Marsà, J.A.G (2017). "Vegaviidae, a new clade of southern diving birds that survived the K/T boundary". The Science of Nature. 104 (87): 87. doi:10.1007/s00114-017-1508-y. PMID 28988276.
  3. ^ Olson, S. (1992). "Neogaeornis wetzeli Lambrecht, a Cretaceous loon from Chile (Aves, Gaviidae)." Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 12(1): 122-124.
  4. ^ Hope, S. (2002). "The Mesozoic radiation of Neornithes." Pp. 339-388 in Chiappe, L.M. and Witmer, L. (eds.), Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs.
  5. ^ Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche, Javier N. Gelfo, New Antarctic findings of Upper Cretaceous and lower Eocene loons (Aves: Gaviiformes), Annales de Paléontologie Volume 101, Issue 4, October–December 2015, Pages 315–324
  6. ^ Feduccia, A. (1999). The Origin and Evolution of Birds. 2nd edition. Yale University Press.
  7. ^ Mayr, G. 2004. "A partial skeleton of a new fossil loon (Aves, Gaviiformes) from the early Oligocene of Germany with preserved stomach content." Journal of Ornithology 145: 281–286. doi:10.1007/s10336-004-0050-9 PDf fulltext
  8. ^ Clarke, J.A.; Chatterjee, S.; Li, Z.; Riede, T.; Agnolin, F.; Goller, F.; Isasi, M.P.; Martinioni, D.R.; Mussel, F.J.; Novas, F.E. (2016). "Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic". Nature. 538 (7626): 502–505. doi:10.1038/nature19852. PMID 27732575.
  9. ^ Worthy, T.H.; Degrange, F.J.; Handley, W.D.; Lee, M.S.Y. (2017). "The evolution of giant flightless birds and novel phylogenetic relationships for extinct fowl (Aves, Galloanseres)". Royal Society Open Science. 11.
  10. ^ a b c Mayr, G.; De Pietri, V.L.; Scofield, R.P.; Worthy, T.H. (2018). "On the taxonomic composition and phylogenetic affinities of the recently proposed clade Vegaviidae Agnolín et al., 2017 ‒ neornithine birds from the Upper Cretaceous of the Southern Hemisphere)". Cretaceous Research. 86: 178–185. doi:10.1016/j.cretres.2018.02.013.