Old Bird Has Plenty to Teach Us
By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
photo by Sara Thompson
Archaeopteryx gets is name from Greek, archaios meaning “ancient and pteryx, meaning “feather” or “wing”. An apt name as many Archaeopteryx specimens are found with wonderfully preserved feather impressions around the skeleton. The first Archaeopteryx was found in 1861 in a quarry in Germany. This specimen was missing most of its head and neck but had feathers on its limbs and tail. The most famous specimen was found between 1874-1875, also in Germany, and this one is regarded as the best-preserved specimen and included the skull, all limbs, tail, and perfectly preserved feather impressions.
Archaeopteryx lived around 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic. It was living in what is now Central Europe. At the time Europe was much closer to the equator and had a warmer, tropical climate. Archaeopteryx was about 20 inches long, but its wingspan measured over two feet. Its size is often compared to that of a raven. The feathers of Archaeopteryx are its most famous feature. They had similar feather structures and arrangements as modern birds. The feathers on the limbs were asymmetric and could be used for gliding or short flights. The tail feathers of Archaeopteryx were more symmetrical and made a fan-like shape, again, like modern birds.
Despite having many bird-like features, Archaeopteryx also had many dinosaurian features. The skull of Archaeopteryx was filled with small teeth and likely preyed on small mammals, lizards, amphibians, and more. It also had a long, bony, and flexible tail like dinosaurs, where birds have short tails made with fused bones. At the end of each forewing, Archaeopteryx had three long fingers with claws, likely used for grasping while hunting or clinging onto trees. The hindfeet of Archaeopteryx was similar to other Dromaeosaurids, the family that includes Deinonychus, Microraptor, and Velociraptor. Some Archaeopteryx specimens have also been found with the flexible, second toe called a “killing claw”.
Because it shares properties of both dinosaurs and modern birds, Archaeopteryx is a very special animal as it helps show the progression between these two species. Scientists are still filling gaps in the evolutionary cladogram of birds, but Archaeopteryx was a huge step in making the connection.
Come see a replica of an Archaeopteryx at our exhibit “Explorit Rocks!”. The final day to explore rocks, fossils, minerals, and crystals is Friday, August 18. Explorit will be CLOSED to the public August 19 - September 1 for the installation of our next exhibit.
Grand Opening of “Our Wild World” is the weekend of Saturday, September 2 – Monday, September 4, 10am-2pm each day. Admission is $5 per person. Explorit Members, ASTC, and those age 2 and under free.
Explorit's coming events:
• Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate
• A Membership to Explorit grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. To purchase or for more information visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.
• Now booking school programs for the ’23-’24 school year. For more information, please visit https://www.explorit.org/programs. To reserve call (530) 756-0191.