DINOSAUR: Archaeopteryx

Living 150 million years ago, the Archaeopteryx is the earliest known animal that resembles modern day birds. Fossilised remains of Archaeopteryx lithographica show that it was covered in feathers, had long, clawed feet and a beak lined with razor sharp teeth.

When the first Archaeopteryx fossil was found in 1861, the discovery shook the scientific world. For the first time a possible link between reptiles and the ancestors of birds had been found.

Archaeopteryx behaviour

With fully feathered forelimbs and the characteristic wishbone of birds, Archaeopteryx was probably capable of limited true flight. Using its long legs, it could have run along the ground until it had enough momentum to launch itself into the air and then use its wings to maintain its flight.

It is likely that Archaeopteryx spent much of its time in trees, using the sharp claws on its feet and wings to climb into the canopy. It could have then used its wings to climb from branch to branch or swoop down to the ground.

 Archaeopteryx facts

It is generally believed that Archaeopteryx evolved from small, two-legged dinosaurs that began to climb trees

The excellent quality of Archaeopteryx fossils led to claims that they were a man-made hoax. Today there is now no doubt.

The name Archaeopteryx derives from the Greek word meaning 'ancient wing'.

Some scientists believe that modern-day birds are in fact dinosaurs, alive and thriving millions of years after their relatives became extinct.

No fossil birds have been found that lived in the 30 million years following Archaeopteryx.

What did Archaeopteryx eat?

Armed with a large, tooth-lined beak and long, well developed legs, Archaeopteryx was certainly not a plant eater. On the other hand, most dinosaurs at the time would have been too large for the relatively tiny Archaeopteryx to overpower, but it may have fed on small lizards.

However, insects were abundant during the Jurassic period, and so it is highly probable that they too provided part of their diet. Due to the Archaeopteryx's agility, insects such as beetles and small dragonflies could have been caught either on the ground, within the tree canopies, or even on the wing!

Archaeopteryx breeding

The Archaeopteryx with its obvious covering of feathers was almost certainly warm blooded. Consequently, unlike its near relatives the coelurosaurs, which probably abandoned their eggs in shallow holes in the ground, Archaeopteryx could have incubated its young in the same way as modern-day birds.

It seems likely that if Archaeopteryx did incubate eggs, it would have done so in a crude nest built on a rocky cliff-face or in a tree, so as to protect its young from predators.

Furthermore, unlike dinosaurs - which probably hatched as small, self-sufficient versions of their parents, it is likely that the young of Archaeopteryx would have emerged from their eggs without feathers again, like modern-day birds.

This would have made the young extremely vulnerable during the first few weeks, so it is probable that Archaeopteryx showed some degree of parental care as do most of today's birds.

For related articles click onto the following links:
DINOSAUR: Archaeopteryx
DINOSAUR: Did Pterosaurs hang upside down?
DINOSAUR: The Pterodactyl
TERRA NOVA - Dinosaur trailer

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