Grenoble / Solnhofen (AP) – The Archeopteryx was able to fly. He rose through active wing flapping in the air and was able to flee from enemies or flutter over obstacles. However, he used a slightly different flying technique than modern birds. This is reported by an international research team after the investigation of fossil remains of the primitive bird with a high-resolution computed tomography. It presents its result in the journal “Nature Communications”.
The first fossil remnant of an Archeopteryx – a single feather – was discovered in 1860 in Solnhofen. A year later, a first skeletal discovery followed. To date, a total of twelve more or less complete fossils have been described. Archeopteryx lived about 150 million years ago, all finds come from the area of today’s Bavaria. “At that time, the region was a subtropical, shallow marginal sea,” explains Martin Röper, director of the Mayor-Müller-Museum Solnhofen, which was involved in the study. “Europe, as we know it, was flooded, except for some island cores. There were lagoon-like basins and coral reefs.” The primal bird combined features of the birds and the dinosaurs: it had feathers and wings, but also teeth and a long tail spine like the dinosaurs. He was about the size of a magpie. Whether he could fly or not, was previously disputed among professionals. Some assumed that the plumage was more for courtship and protection from the cold, and that the primitive bird might bounce or passively pass from trees to the floor. Others suspected that he was at least able to fly actively. A problem in clarifying the question was that the fossils are very precious and should not be destroyed in investigations. The scientists around Dennis Voeten of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), a large research facility in Grenoble, now examined fossils of three Archeopteryx specimens using a special tomography method. In this way, they could non-destructively examine the internal structure of the bones.
“The trick with this technique is that the object rotates during recording,” says Röper. The bones would be illuminated from all sides, on the computer, the images could be assembled into longitudinal and cross-sections, even oblique cuts are possible. In this way, the scientists found that the wing bones in cross section resembled those of modern birds. “We immediately saw that the archeopteryx bone walls were much thinner than those of dinosaurs living on the ground, but very much like those of conventional birds,” explains Voeten. “Data analysis has further shown that Archeopteryx bones are most likely to resemble birds such as pheasants, which sometimes overcome hurdles or escape enemies through active flight, but not such birds that sail or glide through the air for a long time like many birds of prey or some seabirds . ” “It’s clear for the first time that Archeopteryx has been able to fly actively,” says Röper. He probably did not just flee but could fly from island to island. The investigation will end the discussions about the flying ability of the animals, the paleontologist believes. Instead, the research should now focus on the flying style of the original birds. He was not comparable to today’s birds, for example with regard to flapping wings and posture. “Above all, the structure of his sternum and the shoulder structure is incompatible with the flight of modern birds,” explains Röper. In particular, the rotational movement of the wings during flapping today’s wing is not possible.
The Archeopteryx is not the direct ancestor of all living birds today, as Röper explains. He was one of several species of feathered, bird-like predatory dinosaurs, from which later emerged the birds.