Bock, Walter J. Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York.
Last reviewed:January 2021
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A small order of birds containing a single family, the Opisthocomidae. The order Opisthocomiformes contains one species, Opisthocomus hoazin, which is commonly known as the hoatzin (see illustration). It is restricted to South America and has been frequently included in the Galliformes as a suborder; however, little evidence supports this conclusion. More recently, some researchers claimed that it was a typical member of the Cuculidae, the cuckoos, based only on evidence from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) hybridization studies. However, important differences in the morphology of the perching foot argue strongly against the inclusion of the hoatzin in Cuculidae. The hoatzin has an anisodactyl perching foot with three anterior toes and a well-developed hallux (first toe); this arrangement is completely different from the zygodactyl perching foot of the cuckoos (with the second and third toes anterior, and the fourth toe and hallux posterior). Selective demands for perching could not have resulted in the evolution of the anisodactyl foot of the hoatzin from the zygodactyl foot of the cuckoos. In the absence of definite evidence of its relationship to other avian orders, the Opisthocomiformes is best considered as a distinct order that evolved in South America since its isolation from the rest of Gondwana sometime in the late Mesozoic. See also: Cuculiformes; Galliformes
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