Celebrated dino-bird Archaeopteryx could fly, but not very well

Federico Mansilla
Marcha 13, 2018

"It was surprising to see that the wing bone geometry of Archaeopteryx looks remarkably more like those of modern birds than expected".

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 freaky manner. In the second half of the last century, two positions emerged.

Archaeopteryx was likely able to take off from the ground, but must have used a unique flying style, Sanchez said. And a few paleontologists suggested other ideas: Perhaps Archaeopteryx was in the process of losing its flight ability, not gaining it.

Because its fossils are well-studied, researchers knew that if Archaeopteryx could fly, it wasn't comparable to how birds do, because it had a primitive shoulder structure that wouldn't support the downward power and upward recovery wing strokes that modern birds use.

The sensitivity of X-ray imaging techniques allows virtual 3-D reconstructions of extraordinary quality, said study co-author Paul Tafforeau, a scientist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France.

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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. "The right upper arm bone of a professional tennis player is thicker than the left upper arm bone", he said. He made a decision to look for similar evidence in Archaeopteryx.

We would discover in the years following that modern birds are closely related to dinosaurs - so closely related, in fact, that many species could even be considered modern-day dinosaurs. "The variation within modern flying birds is much larger than the differences between Archaeopteryx and the short-flying birds in our data set", Voeten said. They concluded it could fly in bursts over relatively short distances like pheasants, peacocks and roadrunners.

Archaeopteryx boasted teeth, a long tail and had no bony, keeled sternum where flight muscles attach. "The modern bird has a very nifty pulley system", Voeten said. "Were sure that its incapable of flying like a modern bird does", he said.

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. Its flight capabilities may have enabled Archaeopteryx to escape predators or fly among islands. "This is a very famous, notorious debate that I am entering in as a new guy".

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