Dino Diaries #13 – The Archaeopteryx

June 16, 2023

Our resident Paleontologist, Natalia Jagielska is back to give us a rating on how accurate our little Archaeopteryx is and throw some dino truths our way.

The Bare Bone Basics:
The fossil celebrity! Found in Germanic limestones in 1860s (almost 200 years ago!), it paved our way in understanding dinosaur evolution and the onset of avian flight. This feathered animal lived around warm, shallow lagoons in Jurassic Germany. Its fossils were preserved alongside hundreds of crustaceans, fishes, pterosaurs and occasional dinosaurs.

An Interesting Story:
Only a handful of variably preserved Archaeopteryx fossils have been studied (one for a time was mistakenly identified as a pterosaur!), but there are also individual feathers preserved. In fact, the first fossil of Archaeopteryx to be preserved as a single, lonely feather! The feathers, more recently, were studied for geochemical markers (using lasers, synchrotron x-rays) and special microscopy to see traces of structural pigment, melanin. Pointing to the animal having white feathers with black tips.

The Known Unknowns:
We don’t know much about the evolution of flight in other flying vertebrates, pterosaurs and bats, as their flightless ancestors rarely preserve well. Birds, however, from Late Jurassic onwards, left numerous “transitional” fossils showing modular evolution that eventually led to the formation of specialised feathers and wings we know today. While Archaeopteryx was one of the first, many similar “transitional” fossils have been discovered since. Looking at claw, feather and wing morphology allows us to postulate whenever Archaeopteryx was an active flier or mere glider, could it climb or perch on trees like a bird or was more inclined to live on land.

And now for the reveal on how our little guy did in game?
Archaeopteryx: 3/5

Natalia says: “No evidence, sadly, for bright blue feathers (rare as natural pigment), the jaws in real animal are much more elongate, the model is also missing the hallux bone. I love him anyway.”

Wishlist Paleo Pines to rate them yourself at https://bit.ly/PaleoSteam!