World's "First Bird" Was More Dinosaur than Bird

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New research published this week clips the wings of Archaeopteryx. First found in Germany in the 1860’s and dating to 150 million years ago, Archaeopteryx has long been considered the iconic first bird. But microscopic imaging of bone structure published in PLoS One shows that this famously feathered fossil grew much slower than living birds and more like non-avian dinosaurs. The bones of more recently discovered bird fossils like Confuciusornis, a primitive but toothless bird from the Yixian Formation in China that appeared after Archaeopteryx, demonstrate rapid growth more similar to that of modern birds. This means rapid bone growth—long thought a prerequisite for flight—was not necessary for taking to the air.

Dinosaurs had a very different metabolism from today’s birds. It would take years for individuals to mature, and we found evidence for this same pattern in Archaeopteryx and its closest relatives,” says Gregory Erickson of the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University, who is also a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History and first author of this paper. “Living birds mature very quickly and grow really, really fast. This is why we see flocks of pigeons that all look the same and rarely see baby birds. Animals like Archaeopteryx would be very foreign to a bird watcher.

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