Feathered dinosaur's flight wouldn't resemble modern birds, study suggests

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 13, 2018

Such was the case when German paleontologist Christian Erlich Hermann von Meyer discovered an unusual fossil that he couldn't explained. Von Meyer labeled it Archaeopteryx, meaning old wing, and a full skeleton was found shortly thereafter. "Although the anatomy of Archaeopteryx was incapable of executing the flight stroke of modern birds, this similarity accounts for the strongest evidence for active flight in this animal presented in 150 years of research". And as we know from looking at modern birds like penguins and ostriches, just because they have wings doesn't mean they can fly. Their findings are detailed in a new study in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

"It was surprising to see that the wing bone geometry of Archaeopteryx looks remarkably more like those of modern birds than expected". Recent discoveries have pushed Archaeopteryx away from its perch as a transitional dinosaur-to-bird fossil - there is now a crowd of finely feathered dinosaurs.

It may not have been a champion aviator, but the famous dino-bird Archaeopteryx was fully capable of flying despite key skeletal differences from its modern cousins, though not exactly gracefully, according to a new study. In the second half of the last century, two positions emerged.

Statistical comparison placed the bones of Archaeopteryx very close to those of mostly ground-dwelling birds such as pheasants and roadrunners, Voeten said. The concept is similar to an X-ray, but your dentists X-ray machine would fail to distinguish fossilized skeletons from the background rock. A synchrotron beam is much more sensitive.

Voeten and his colleagues also noticed that the bones were well-developed for blood vessels, which could suggest active flight, but they believe that more research is needed regarding this point. This gave researchers the opportunity to take a closer look at Archaeopteryx.

The Archaeopteryx was a small dinosaur, comparable in size to a modern day magpie. The Archaeopteryx bone characteristics closely resembled what Voeten called "burst fliers". The study moves Archaeopteryx from a potential flying animal to a probable one, he concluded.

Still, it did not fly like a pheasant.

"This implies that the search for the first free flying dinosaurs, which will add to our understanding of the very origin of dinosaurian flight, should focus on fossils older than Archaeopteryx", Voeten said.

Archaeopteryx boasted teeth, a long tail and had no bony, keeled sternum where flight muscles attach. Archaeopteryx wings were attached like our arms, with no chest pulley.

The bones themselves were hollow, a trait exclusively shared with flying birds and pterosaurs, which suggested that Archaeopteryx could fly.

Voeten expects that the new study will attract Archaeopteryx flight critics and says, "I warmly welcome them". Its flight capabilities may have enabled Archaeopteryx to escape predators or fly among islands.

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