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Fossils: Taking flight: Archaeopteryx gets into a flap

Nature Communications

March 14, 2018

The Late Jurassic dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of powered flight, suggests a study published in Nature Communications this week. Previous studies have left open the question of whether Archaeopteryx used its feathered wings for active flight or passive gliding.

Dennis Voeten and colleagues analyzed the bone architecture of the wings of Archaeopteryx, using a technique called phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to visualize the interior of the bones without damaging the fossils. By comparing a wide range of species, from extinct pterosaurs to modern birds, they found that flight style could be predicted reliably from bone architecture - and that Archaeopteryx matched modern birds that flap their wings to fly short distances or in bursts.

Despite the similarities in internal bone structure, Archaeopteryx anatomy is not compatible with the flight strokes of modern birds. Therefore, the authors suggest that Archaeopteryx would have used a different flapping motion and aerial posture than that of modern birds.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8

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