One of the things that I just love about science is that nothing is forever or immune from review. Better yet, those reviews, especially with new evidence can fundamentally change the way we understand a “fact” about a planet, gravity or a species. Which is where our pal Archaeopteryx comes in.
Most of you probably know about this particular species of dinosaur. It was discovered 150 years ago. What made the fossil so special is that it not only had very well preserved bones but also the outlines of the feathers that covered it in life.
This combined with some characteristics that are generally found in birds has given it the title of “First Bird” for most of that time. However it seems like old Archaeopteryx (just try spelling that with dyslexia!) is being dethroned.
As our knowledge of other feathered dinosaur species has evolved there has been some troubling problems with treating the Big A as a real flying bird. It does not have a breast bone as most flying birds do, and it has this very funky set of what are called “leg wings” that don’t have a good analogue today.
All of which is to be expected, since the Big A is what is called a “transitional fossil” (don’t tell the Young Earth crowd but there are a lot of transitional fossils, despite their claims to the contrary) which is where there a blend of characteristics as an existing population of animals speciates into two.
But none of that would have prevented the Big A from being a bird. But new evidence out of China suggests that the Big A was part of another species of feathered dinosaurs and not birds at all. Professor Xu Xing (cool name there Prof!) has spent a lot of time comparing another feathered dino called Xiaotingia to the Big A and believes that they are one and the same. Here, see what Prof Xing has to say:
“There are many, many features that suggest that Xiaotingia and Archaeopteryx are a type of dinosaur called Deinonychosaurs rather than birds. For example, both have a large hole in front of the eye; this big hole is only seen in these species and is not present in any other birds.
“Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia are very, very similar to other Deinonychosaurs in having a quite interesting feature – the whole group is categorised by a highly specialised second pedo-digit which is highly extensible, and both Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia show initial development of this feature.”
Now, as I as I said before, this is science, so this new evidence might dethrone Archaeopteryx from the title of first bird, but that doesn’t mean that somewhere down the road further evidence might not reverse this conclusion.
For now though, there are new contenders for that “First Bird” title, their names are Epidexipteryx, Jeholornis and Sapeornis. All of these fossils were found in China between 2002 and 2008 and they are all believed to have lived about the same time the Big A did, 150 -120 million years ago. Only time will tell which, if any, gets named as the first true bird. At least until some other fossil knocks them out of the running.
Just a side note, I have been so jazzed about the idea of feathered dinosaurs, as opposed to birds, ever since I heard about it. I know it is silly, but I keep imagining Tyrannosaurus Rex with a huge Cockatiel head crest. Or maybe some bushy eyebrows made of Macaw like feathers.
Who says science can be fun (and a little silly)?
What is on your minds tonight Firedogs? The floor is yours!