Ancient Archaeopteryx Flew In Completely Unique Way

PAThe fossil of the Archaeopteryx

PAThe fossil of the Archaeopteryx

The Archaeopteryx was a small dinosaur, comparable in size to a modern day magpie.

Although it may sound simple, the fossils of the feathery-winged dinosaur, found largely in Germany, don't give up their secrets so easily. He chose to look for similar evidence in Archaeopteryx. Their findings are detailed in a new study in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday. What appeared to be a bird feather was pressed into 150-million-year-old limestone.

As scientists have probed Archaeopteryxs family tree, they also questioned its ability to fly. Voeten works with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and is a PhD candidate at Palacký University in the Czech Republic.

But the X-rays revealed new finds within the arm bones of Archaeopteryx.

"It was surprising to see that the wing bone geometry of Archaeopteryx looks remarkably more like those of modern birds than expected". It lacked important traits in the shoulders of modern birds, making it impossible to beat its wings the way they do.

During the next 150-plus years, paleontologists discovered 10 more Archaeopteryx skeletons. "Were sure that its incapable of flying like a modern bird does", he said. One camp said, yes, Archaeopteryx flapped its way off the ground. "Archaeopteryx was capable of at least short bursts of powered flight".

The study does not attempt to definitively describe the flight style, but Voeten and his team believe that because of the shoulder girdle, it's possible that Archaeopteryx had a flight stroke that oriented forward and up, followed by a power stroke oriented rearward and down - nearly like the butterfly stroke.

There's a reason why this type of flight is not observable in birds today: It went extinct because it wasn't effective.

As mentioned above, modern birds are descendants of similar dinosaurs, but Voeten says that the Archaeopteryx was probably not a direct ancestor of birds like the sparrow or ostrich, instead representing an offshoot lineage - a statement backed up by the fact that the Archaeopteryx took flight in quite a freakish manner. Just as modern birds fly through the air, the Archaeopteryx flew as well - but in the hundreds of millions of years since Archaeopteryx walked the earth, modern birds took a marked departure from how this ancient dinosaur flew.

In terms of flight, the pheasant most closely matches this dinosaur, the study suggests.

During the Jurassic period over the German archipelago, the only company Archaeopteryx would've had in the skies were primitive pterosaurs.

"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. Its flight capabilities may have enabled Archaeopteryx to escape predators or fly among islands.

"With 11 specimens of Archaeopteryx presently known, which makes Archaeopteryx a comparatively well-sampled dinosaur, it is quite remarkable that this taxon remains somewhat mysterious to this very day".

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