Archaeopterx was a primitive bird which lived in what is modern-day Germany during the late Jurassic period. Its name means “ancient wing,” and the first complete fossil was found in 1861. The discovery of Archaeopteryx created a debate about evolution and what is known today as transitional fossils.
A total of ten fossils have been found since 1861, and this species is well documented. All of the fossils were found in Germany embedded in limestone, which preserved them quite well. The discovery of the Archaeopteryx, along with similar species found in China during the 1990s have greatly added strength to the idea that birds are linked to dinosaurs.
The Archaeopteryx was similar in size to the modern Magpie bird. It had short wings which were broad, and it had a long tail. The feathers were much like modern birds, but there were also some notable differences between Archaeopteryx and modern birds. It had jaws which were filled with sharp teeth, and three of its fingers were tipped with claws, and it also had a bony tail.
The discovery of Archaeopteryx gave powerful evidence that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. While it is probably related to modern birds, Archaeopteryx is not believed by paleontologists to be the direct descendant of birds which live today. The biggest debate among paleontologists is whether the animal hopped or could actually fly.
While some believe that Archaeopteryx could fly, others believe it was only capable of hopping or gliding from trees. Because it doesn’t have a strong breastbone, this is evidence that it wasn’t good a flying. Strong flight muscles connected to its wishbone, and this is a feature which many birds have. Because it had large wings and a tail, this was evidence that it could fly and maneuver in the air. Its wings were also shaped like many modern birds.
In 2004 a CT scan was done which analyzed the braincase of Archaeopteryx, and based on the results it appears it had a brain large enough to allow it to fly. The brain of the animal was constructed using the computer, and the areas which handle vision take up a large part of its brain. The brain was also developed for hearing. The structure of the brain is more like a modern bird than a reptile.
At the same time, other scientists believe the Archaeopteryx climbed trees and could glide like some modern day squirrels. However, only time will tell which theories turn out to be accurate.