Inside the first bird, surprising signs of a dinosaur

By | October 9, 2009

The raptor-like Archaeopteryx has long been viewed as the archetypal first bird, but new research reveals that it was actually a lot less “bird-like” than scientists had believed.

In fact, the landmark study led by paleobiologist Gregory M. Erickson of The Florida State University has upended the iconic first-known-bird image of Archaeopteryx (from the Greek for “ancient wing”), which lived 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period in what is now Germany. Instead, the animal has been recast as more of a feathered dinosaur — bird on the outside, dinosaur on the inside.

That’s because new, microscopic images of the ancient cells and blood vessels inside the bones of the winged, feathered, claw-handed creature show unexpectedly slow growth and maturation that took years, similar to that found in dinosaurs, from which birds evolved. In contrast, living birds grow rapidly and mature in a matter of weeks.

Also groundbreaking is the finding that the rapid bone growth common to all living birds but surprisingly absent from the Archaeopteryx was not necessary for avian dinosaur flight.

The study is published in the Oct. 9, 2009, issue of the journal PLoS One . In addition to Erickson, an associate professor in Florida State’s Department of Biological Science and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, co-authors include Florida State University biologist Brian D. Inouye and other U.S. scientists, as well as researchers from Germany and China.

“Living birds mature very quickly,” Erickson said. “That’s why we rarely see baby birds among flocks of invariably identical-size pigeons. Slow-growing animals such as Archaeopteryx would look foreign to contemporary bird-watchers.”

Erickson said evidence already confirms that birds are, in fact, dinosaurs. “But just how dinosaur-like — or even bird-like — was the first bird?” he asked. “Almost nothing had been known of Archaeopteryx biology. There has been debate as to how well it flew, if at all. Some have suggested that early bird physiology may have been very different from living birds, but no one had tested fossils that were close to the base of bird ancestry.”

Fossilized remains of Archaeopteryx were found in Germany in 1860, one year after Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published. With its combination of bird-like features, including feathers and a wishbone, and reptilian ones — teeth, three-fingered hands, a long bony tail — the skeleton made evolutionary theory more credible. The 1860s evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley saw the Archaeopteryx as a perfect transition between birds and reptiles. Erickson calls it “the poster child for evolution.”

via Inside the first bird, surprising signs of a dinosaur.

So, you evolution deniers, what do you think? Do you really believe that the devil put the seven (7) different Archeopteryx fossils in the ground to confuse people about the bible?

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