Connecting Link – Archaeopteryx
Archaeopteryx, the oldest-known fossil animal that is generally accepted as a bird. The eight or so known specimens date to approximately 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic Period (161 million to 146 million years ago), and all were found in the Solnhofen Limestone Formation in Bavaria, Germany, starting in 1861. However, late 20th- and early 21st-century discoveries of other birdlike fossils of similar age, including Xiaotingia zhengi from the Liaoning deposits in China, have prompted several paleontologists to call for the reclassification of Archaeopteryx as a dinosaur.
Much of what is known about Archaeopteryx comes from a series of well-preserved fossil specimens. The Solnhofen Limestone is a very fine-grained Jurassic limestone formed in a shallow tropical marine environment (probably a coral lagoon), where lime-rich muds slowly accumulated and permitted fossil material to be exceptionally well preserved. Several of the fossils show clear impressions of feathers. The sizes of the specimens range from that of a blue jay to that of a large chicken.
Archaeopteryx shared many anatomic characters with coelurosaurs, a group of theropods (carnivorous dinosaurs). In fact, only the identification of feathers on the first known specimens indicated that the animal was a bird. Unlike living birds, however, Archaeopteryx had well-developed teeth and a long well-developed tail similar to those of smaller dinosaurs, except that it had a row of feathers on each side. The three fingers bore claws and moved independently, unlike the fused fingers of living birds.
Archaeopteryx had well-developed wings, and the structure and arrangement of its wing feathers—similar to that of most living birds—indicate that it could fly. A study of melanosomes (the pigmented, melanin-producing granules present in specialized skin cells called melanocytes) in the animal’s feathers revealed that the feathers were black and that the arrangement of the granules within the feather’s microstructure probably provided increased structural support to the wings, similar to the way it does in modern birds. Skeletal structures related to flight are incompletely developed, however, which suggests that Archaeopteryx may not have been able to sustain flight for great distances. Archaeopteryxis known to have evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs, as it retains many features such as teeth and a long tail. It also retains a wishbone, a breastbone, hollow, thin-walled bones, air sacs in the backbones, and feathers, which are also found in the nonavian coelurosaurian relatives of birds. These structures, therefore, cannot be said to have evolved for the purpose of flight, because they were already present in dinosaurs before either birds or flight evolved.
By – Assistant Professor – Mr. Rahul Rana
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital