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Bird with freaky long toes found in 99 million-year-old amber

There are no birds like this alive today (as far as we know).

This illustration shows what Elektorornis chenguangi might've looked like and how it could've used its lengthy toes to rustle up num-nums.

Zhongda Zhang/Current Biology

Amber is the ancient wonder substance that's brought us a glorious millipede, a spider with a tail, dinosaur-biting ticks and, now, a bizarre bird with toes longer than its lower legs.

Scientists were surprised to find the bird foot and its extremely long toe trapped in 99 million-year-old amber from Myanmar, dating from the Cretaceous period. 

The bird's leg, foot and left wing tip were trapped in amber millions of years ago.

Lida Xing

Amber traders originally thought the foot belonged to a lizard that had been trapped and preserved in the sticky tree resin. 

"Although I've never seen a bird claw that looks like this before, I know it's a bird. Like most birds, this foot has four toes, while lizards have five" Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing said in a press release. 

Xing is lead author of a paper on the find published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

The research team scanned the foot and created a 3D model to compare to both living and extinct birds. These efforts just proved how utterly weird the foot is. 

"There is no bird with a similar morphology that could be considered a modern analog for this fossil bird," said co-author Jingmai O'Connor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The mystery bird is now named Elektorornis chenguangi, with "elektorornis" meaning "amber bird." It was likely smaller than a sparrow and may've used the long toe to pull insects and other delectables out of tree trunks.

"It shows that ancient birds were way more diverse than we thought," said Xing. "They had evolved many different features to adapt to their environments."