|Name Meaning:||Ancient Wing|
|Time Period:||Late Jurassic, 150 Ma|
The Archaeopteryx is the earliest known feathered animal. Because of this it was given its name which means "ancient wing." It is an animal seemingly in between dinosaurs and birds and marks an important connection in the evolution of both. Its first discovery was of a single feather found in 1860. Although it is somewhat unsure whether or not it belonged to the Archaeopteryx evidence does suggest a relation between the two. A skeleton was discovered only one year later and described in 1863 by Richard Owen. Charles Darwin made a reference to the find in his Origin of Species
to disprove the idea that birds simply sprang into existence and to support his theory of evolution. The most complete specimen was found in 1876 in Germany and described in 1884. Since then about 10 specimens total have been found including one discovery described recently in 2005 and donated to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center where it now resides.
The Archaeopteryx is a bird and measures approximately the average size of modern birds. It has several features of both Avians and Reptiles, especially Theropods. Its avian features included it wings and feathers. It's feathers were a lot like those of today's modern birds. This is generally an Avian trait but is also known to occur in some Theropods as well. In relation to the dinosaurs it had similar jaws with small sharp teeth. It had three clawed fingers on each hand and a killer claw on its feet, much like the Deinonychosaurs. It also had hollow bones. Although it seems to be a connection between birds and reptiles it is probably not an ancestor of birds but rather a close relative.
It is unclear whether the Archaeopteryx could fly like modern birds or not. It wings gave it lift, but it may have been better suited as a glider. From inner ear scans it appears more bird-like and less reptilian with an acute sense of hearing, balance, and flight coordination. Germany, during the Jurassic was mostly underwater with some few islands. There appeared to be an absence of trees in the area at that time so it is unsure whether the Archaeopteryx dwelt in trees or on the ground. It was a carnivore because of its teeth, and probably hunted small prey.
ScienceViews Writer: Jason Hamilton.
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