Archeopteryx is an extinct species which shared characters with both dinosaurs and modern birds. They lived during the Upper Jurassic period about 150.8-148.5 million years ago, in what we today know as Southern Germany. Read on to discover interesting facts on Archaeopteryx.
Name derived from Greek words
The name Archaeopteryx is derived from Greek words ἀρχαῖος (archaīos) meaning “ancient”, and πτέρυξ (ptéryx), meaning “feather”.
Archaeopteryx wasn’t the first bird
It was believed for very long that Archaeopteryx was the first known birds. However, older avian species have been identified. These are Anchiornis, Xiaotingia and Aurornis. These lived during the late Jurassic period.
What did Archaeopteryx eat?
Most likely Arachaeopteryx was a carnivore that lived on small reptiles and amphibians.
Link between birds and dinosaurs
Archeopteryx are often referred to as one of the first birds. But their features and characteristics were more similar to dinosaurs than birds, particularly theropod dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx confirmed Charles Darwin’s theory on Origin of Species since they formed a key link with birds.
Birds evolved from Theropods
In the 1970s, John Ostrom added further to TH Huxley’s idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx proved to be a critical evidence to verify this theory. It shared with birds feathers, wings and, hooked toe. Thus, this investigation helped us know that Archaeopteryx was the link between theropod dinosaurs and birds.
Lived in Europe when it was an archipelago
About 150 million years ago, Archaeopteryx lived lived in what is now southern Germany. During this period, Europe was an archipelago of small islands located close to the equator. Most of the Archeopteryx specimens discovered come from the Solnhofen limestone in Bavaria, southern Germany, which is a lagerstätte, a geological formation known for its magnificently detailed fossils.
Length and wingspan
Archaeopteryx could grow upto a length of 0.5 meter (1 ft 8 inches), i.e., the size of a modern crow. They had broad wings and had the ability to fly.
Whether they could fly is debatable
Archaeopteryx had a wide wingspan and a long feathered tail. Although these features suggest that it could fly, but researchers still doubt the same. This is because it lacked the sternum bone. In birds, this bone is preceded by the long neck bone and aids flying in birds.
Some other differences between birds and Archaeopteryx skeletal structure suggests that it could not lift its wings on its back and thus incapable of vertical motion.
Its wings were also believed to be too large and must have made the Archaeopteryx a slow flyer.
Just like modern birds that can fly, the plumage of Archaeopteryx was asymmetric. As per the degree of asymmetry in its feathers, it might have been a slow flyer rather than flightless. This is because flightless birds have symmetrical feathers.
It might have been of black color
In 2011, a student, Ryan Carney performed a study to find out the color of Archaeopteryx along with his colleagues. They used scanning and electron microscope therapy to study the color. They could detect the melanosomes (responsible for melanin production) in the feather specimen. This structure was then compared to that of modern birds and it was concluded that the archaeopteryx must have been black in color.