Was the most recent common ancestor of all swans black, or white, or some other color? How do we know, and how certain can we be?

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    $\begingroup$ Reptiles are thought to be the common ancestors of birds. Their skin color is not known, as that does not appear in the fossil record. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ Your comment made me realise I'd phrased the question imprecisely. I've edited it to put in the words "most recent". $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 6:06

1 Answer 1


According to the known phylogeny of Anserinae in this paper,

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Cygnus atratus (the black swan) is most closely related to Cygnus melanocoryphus (the black-necked swan). All of the other swans in the genus Cygnus are white, or close to white.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume via maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood that the two genera evolved their blackness from a white ancestor, and not that all of the swans independently turned white from a black ancestor.


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