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Journal of BirdLife Australia

Fossil honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) from the Late Tertiary of Riversleigh, north-western Queensland

Walter E. Boles
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- Author Affiliations

Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Australian Museum, 6 College Street, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia, and School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: walterb@austmus.gov.au

Emu 105(1) 21-26 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU03024
Submitted: 13 June 2003  Accepted: 25 November 2004   Published: 31 March 2005


The honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) comprise one of the most characteristic, numerous, speciose and widespread components of the Australo-Papuan avifauna. Despite their present ubiquity, these birds have a meagre fossil record restricted to the Quaternary. Described here are the first Late Tertiary records of the Meliphagidae, recovered from Pliocene and Miocene sites of Riversleigh, north-western Queensland. These records are based on the tarsometatarsus, which in honeyeaters is one of the more distinctive morphologies among the Passeriformes. The Pliocene site at Riversleigh has yielded three specimens, one of which is particularly well preserved and morphologically inseparable from the extant LichenostomusMeliphaga. Specimens from three Miocene sites exhibit differences in size and morphology that indicate that at least four taxa are involved at this age.


The specimens described here form part of the collection of the Queensland Museum, Brisbane; the Riversleigh specimens were made available through the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, School of School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences, University of New South Wales. Comparative material was made available by R. Schodde and J. Wombey, Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Canberra, ACT. P. Ovenden, Australian Museum Photography Department took the photographs; and the Australian Museum provided a venue in which to work and funds to support this research. The Riversleigh material was collected via various grants to M. Archer and the Riversleigh Research Project.


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