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Temporal range: Early Cretaceous, 120 Ma
Specimen on display at the Beijing Museum of Natural History.
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Dinosauria
Clade: Saurischia
Clade: Theropoda
Clade: Avialae
Clade: Enantiornithes
Clade: Euenantiornithes
Genus: Cathayornis
Zhou, Jin & Zhang, 1992
Type species
Cathayornis yandica
Zhou et al., 1992
Other Species
  • C. aberransis? Hou et al., 2002
  • C. chabuensis? Li et al., 2008

Cathayornis is a genus of enantiornithean birds from the Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning, People's Republic of China. It is known definitively from only one species, Cathayornis yandica, one of the first Enantiornithes found in China. Several additional species were once incorrectly classified as Cathayornis, and have since been reclassified or regarded as nomina dubia.


Cathayornis yandica was a small enantiornithean with a slightly elongated, toothy snout and perching feet. Like most other Enantiornithes, it had large claws on the first two fingers that supported the wing. According to most recent studies, only one specimen can be definitively assigned to this species, a fossil catalogued as number IVPP V9769 and currently housed in the collections of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.[1] Cathayornis can be told apart from similar Enantiornithes (especially Sinornis, Eocathayornis, and Houornis) by its larger size, a shorter and straighter first finger with a slightly longer claw, and other anatomical details.[2] Two additional but very fragmentary specimens, IVPP V9936 and V10896, have been referred to C. yandica in the past, but cannot be directly compared with the type specimen because they do not preserve any of the same key parts of the skeleton.[1]

Classification and species[edit]

Paul Sereno et al., in 2002, considered Cathayornis a junior synonym of Sinornis. They interpreted the anatomies of the two as very similar and sharing key autapomorphies of the pygostyle.[3] The first thorough review of Sinornis and Cathayornis was published by Jingmai O'Connor and Gareth Dyke in 2010. O'Connor and Dyke concluded that despite the earlier opinion of Sereno and colleagues, the two birds were not synonyms and in fact differ in several clear ways, including different proportions in the wing claws and digits, differences in the pelvis, and size of the pygostyle.[4]

Several other species – Cathayornis aberransis,[5] Cathayornis chabuensis[6] and Cathayornis caudatus[7] – had been classified as Cathayornis in the past. However, their validity and/or assignment to the genus Cathayornis has been questioned in subsequent evaluations. Jingmai O'Connor and Gareth Dyke (2010) found that many of the supposedly distinct features of C. aberransis (such as the base of a crest on the skull) had been inaccurately described, casting doubt on the few remaining features separating it from C. yandica, and suggested that further study was needed to determine its validity.[4] Similarly, C. caudatus was so named for its supposedly bony tail lacking a pygostyle, and was further differentiated by its small size. O'Connor and Dyke re-examined the specimen and showed that the specimen is in fact only slightly smaller than the type specimen of C. yandica, and that a normal enantiornithean tail with a pygostyle is clearly visible in one of the fossil slabs, parts of the hip bones having been mistaken for unfused tail vertebrae. O'Connor and Dyke therefore considered C. caudatus a nomen dubium.[4] They considered C. chabuenis, from the Jingchuan Formation of Inner Mongolia, to be clearly distinct from C. yandica and most likely a representative of a new genus.[4] In a 2015 re-evaluation of supposed "cathayornithids", Wang and Liu determined that C. caudatus could be differentiated from Cathayornis and placed it in the new genus Houornis. On the other hand, they considered C. chabuensis a nomen dubium.[1]

Other species of similar birds from the Jiufotang Formation have been regarded as synonymous with C. yandica by some researchers, including Largirostrornis sexdentoris and Cuspirostrisornis houi,[8] though this has yet to be supported by rigorous study.[4] O'Connor and colleagues noted that Longchengornis sanyanensis, also synonymized with C. yandica by some authors, seems to show distinct anatomy not shared with at least that species of Cathayornis.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Wang, M.; Liu, D. (2015). "Taxonomical reappraisal of Cathayornithidae (Aves: Enantiornithes)". Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. 14: 29–47. doi:10.1080/14772019.2014.994087. S2CID 86665059.
  2. ^ Zhou, Zhonghe, Hou and Lianhai. (2001). "The Discovery and Study of Mesozoic Birds in China." In Chiappe, L. and Witmer, L. (eds.), Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. 2001: University of California Press.
  3. ^ Sereno, Rao and Li, (2002). "Sinornis santensis (Aves: Enantiornithes) from the Early Cretaceous of Northeastern China." Pp 184-208. in Chiappe and Witmer (eds.), Mesozoic Birds – Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. Berkeley: University of California Press
  4. ^ a b c d e f O'Connor, J. and Dyke, G. (2010). "A reassessment of Sinornis santensis and Cathayornis yandica (Aves: Enantiornithes)." Records of the Australian Museum, 62: 7-20. doi:10.3853/J.0067-1975.62.2010.1540
  5. ^ Hou, Zhou, Zhang and Gu, (2002). Mesozoic birds from western Liaoning in China. ISBN 7-5381-3392-5. 120 pp.
  6. ^ Li, J., Li, Z., Zhang, Y., Zhou, Z., Bai, Z., Zhang, L. and Ba, T. (2008). "A new species of Cathayornis from the Lower Cretaceous of Inner Mongolia, China and its stratigraphic significance." Acta Geologica Sinica, 82(6): 1115-1123.
  7. ^ Hou Lianhai, 1997. Mesozoic Birds of China. Phoenix Valley Bird Park, Lugu Hsiang, Taiwan. 221 pp.
  8. ^ Zhou Z. and Wang Y. (2010). "Vertebrate diversity of the Jehol Biota as compared with other lagerstätten." Science China: Earth Sciences, 53(12): 1894–1907. doi:10.1007/s11430-010-4094-9 [1] Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine