Fossil range: Late Jurassic
Restoration of Archaeopteryx sp.
| Scientific classification
Archaeopteryx, sometimes referred to by its German name Urvogel ("original bird" or "first bird"), is the earliest and most primitive bird known. Archaeopteryx lived during the Late Jurassic Period around 150–145 million years ago, in what is now southern Germany during a time when Europe was an archipelago of islands in a shallow warm tropical sea, much closer to the equator than it is now.
Similar in size and shape to a European Magpie, Archaeopteryx could grow to about 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) in length. Despite its small size, broad wings, and inferred ability to fly or glide, Archaeopteryx has more in common with small theropod dinosaurs than it does with modern birds. In particular, it shares the following features with the deinonychosaurs (dromaeosaurs and troodontids): jaws with sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, hyperextensible second toes ("killing claw"), feathers (which also suggest homeothermy), and various skeletal features.
The features above make Archaeopteryx the first clear candidate for a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds. Thus, Archaeopteryx plays an important role not only in the study of the origin of birds but in the study of dinosaurs.
The first complete specimen of Archaeopteryx was announced in 1861, only two years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and it became a key piece of evidence in the debate over evolution. Over the years, nine more fossils of Archaeopteryx have surfaced. Despite variation among these fossils, most experts regard all the remains that have been discovered as belonging to a single species, though this is still debated.
Many of these eleven fossils include impressions of feathers—among the oldest (if not the oldest) direct evidence of feathers. Moreover, because these feathers are an advanced form (flight feathers), these fossils are evidence that feathers had been evolving for quite some time.
- ^ Archaeopteryx at The Grave Yard - Jamie Headden, Scott Hartman, and Rutger Jansma's skeletal restorations of most of the specimens. Eight scaled to each other at this site (both retrieved 2007-01-22)
- ^ Archaeopteryx: An Early Bird - University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology. Retrieved 2006-OCT-18
- ^ Archaeopteryx lithographica - Nick Longrich, University of Calgary. Discusses how many wings an Archaeopteryx had and other questions.
- ^ Wellnhofer P (2004). "The Plumage of Archaeopteryx". in Currie PJ, Koppelhus EB, Shugar MA, Wright JL. Feathered Dragons. Indiana University Press. pp. 282–300. ISBN 0-253-34373-9.
Further reading Edit
- de Beer, G.R. (1954). Archaeopteryx lithographica: a study based upon the British Museum specimen. Trustees of the British Museum, London.
- Chambers, P. (2002). Bones of Contention: The Fossil that Shook Science. John Murray, London. ISBN 0-7195-6059-4.
- Feduccia, A. (1996). The Origin and Evolution of Birds. Yale University Press, New Haven. ISBN 0-300-06460-8.
- Heilmann, G. (1926). The Origin of Birds. Witherby, London.
- Huxley T.H. (1871). Manual of the anatomy of vertebrate animals. London.
- von Meyer, H. (1861). Archaeopteryx litographica (Vogel-Feder) und Pterodactylus von Solenhofen. Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und Petrefakten-Kunde. 1861: 678–679, plate V [Article in German] Fulltext at Google Books.
- Shipman, P. (1998). Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. ISBN 0-297-84156-4.
- Wellnhofer, P. (2008). Archaeopteryx. Der Urvogel von Solnhofen (in German). Verlag Friedrich Pfeil, Munich. ISBN 978-389937076-8
- Journal of Dinosaur Paleontology - With many articles on dinosaur-bird links.
- All About Archaeopteryx from Talk.Origins
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Crurotarsi Archosaurs — Ornithosuchidae • Aetosauria • Phytosauria • Rauisuchia • Crocodylomorpha • Crocodilia
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Avian Archosaurs — Avialae • Archaeopteryx • Confuciusornis • Ichthyornis • Enantiornithes • Hesperornithes • Neornithes • Paleognathae • Neognathae