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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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