Archaeopteryx, with a blend of reptilian and avian features, is an extinct genus of bird-like dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx species were found around 150 million years ago – in Late Jurassic period. Archaeopteryx plays a huge role in scientific debates when it comes to the origin and evolution of birds.
|Type species||Archaeopteryx lithographica|
|Other Species||Archaeopteryx siemensii|
|Size||50 cms in length|
|Weight||1.8 to 2.2 pounds|
|Other Name||Urvogel; German word for ‘first bird’ or ‘original bird.’|
Size wise, they were similar to the Eurasian magpie. Their physical characteristics were more in common with small sized Mesozoic dinosaurs compared to modern birds. They had a bony tail, hyperextensible second toes, long wings with rounded ends, three fingers with claws and jaws with sharp teeth and skeleton features common with dromaeosaurids and troodontids. Archaeopteryx specimens showed that they had flight and tail feathers. Their body plumage was quite like down. A well-preserved specimen showed that their body plumage included well-developed feathers on the legs.
The museum specimens had no feathering on the head and upper neck. However, some scientists believe that it could be the result of the museum preservation procedure. Depending on their feathers and wings, scientists believe that they had aerodynamic capabilities. But scientists are not sure whether they were glider or flapper.
A study, conducted in 2011, suggested that their feathers were black. However, a 2013 research stated that they had light (probably white) plumage with black tips. But plumage studies of bird-like theropods have always suggested that they had complex coloration as well as iridescent patterns. It is believed that they used their plumage for signaling.
Another analysis revealed that contour feathers were already there in flightless dinosaurs. The plumage varied within different regions. These results suggest that the contour feathers primarily evolved for camouflage, display and brooding.
They inhabited an area that is now Bavaria in Germany. During this time, Europe was closer to the equator than it is today, and it had a dry and warm climate.
- The name Archaeopteryx comes from two Greek words – ‘haīos’ meaning ‘ancient,’ and ‘ptéryx’ meaning ‘wing’ or ‘feather.’
- Around late 19th and early 20th century, this genus had been seen as the oldest bird ever known. But after that, probable older avians have been identified that includes Aurornis, Xiaotingia and Anchiornis.
- Starting from 1985, a group that included physicist Lee Spetner and astronomer Fred Hoyle brought out a series of papers that claimed the Berlin and London specimens were forged.
- A 2009 study by Erickson, Zhongue, Norell and others revealed that Archaeopteryx grew quite slow than modern bird does.
- Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu cocu, ou l’Archéopteryx shows Archaeopteryx as an important character.
Habitat and Behavior
They lived in places where there were no big trees that were useful for gliding. The structure of their claws suggests that they did not climb often. Their flight may be in relation to their escape or hunting behavior.
The first fossil sample, a single feather, was unearthed from limestone deposits in Solnhofen, Germany, in 1860. In 1861, the first Archaeopteryx skeleton (however with missing neck and head) was found in Langenaltheim, Germany.
The most complete specimen, known as the Berlin Specimen, was unearthed from near Eichstatt, Germany in 1874 or 1875 by a farmer. Through different transactions, the specimen finally ended up at the Humboldt Museum fur Naturkunde. The 12th and last (as of now) specimen was found in 2010 and was revealed in 2014. But it had not been fully described yet.
Some of the other notable samples are Eichstätt Specimen, Haarlem Specimen and Maxberg Specimen.