Flight of Fancy? Winged Dinosaur Could Fly like a Pheasant

Since its discovery, scientists have wondered whether the “first bird” was capable of flight. A recent discovery discussed by Aoife Muckian suggests that this winged dinosaur could fly (albeit in short bursts).

 

Research recently published in Nature may have settled an academic debate which had been going on among paleontologists for decades. It had long been unknown whether the famous winged dinosaur, the archaeopteryx, was capable of flight. This paper suggests that the dinosaur may in fact have been able to fly in short bursts, much like a pheasant.

The archaeopteryx is a well-known species of dinosaur among the public, along with the brontosaurus and others. A part of the fascination and popularity surrounding the creature is owed to its winged anatomy which has caused it to be seen as a link between reptiles and birds.

A part of the fascination and popularity surrounding the creature is owed to its winged anatomy which has caused it to be seen as a link between reptiles and birds.”

Discovered in the 1860s in Germany, the archaeopteryx was first called the Urvogel, which roughly translates as “first bird,” though scientists now consider it more akin to a winged dinosaur. Ryan Carney, an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Florida, notes that the origins of modern aviation in birds has been something scientists have puzzled over for centuries. Modern birds have particular anatomical features that allow flight, such as breastbones that have extensions into their breast, and powerful muscles that act as an anchor for their wings to flap in a downward motion. The archaeopteryx has been found to have breast bones – however, it is not certain if they were made from bone or cartilage.

Previous attempts have been made to solve the question of the dinosaur’s capability to fly, but none had been as successful as the research conducted at Grenoble in France, where the researchers used powerful non-invasive x-ray technology to examine the fossil and to compare it against other modern species. One of the researchers, Dennis Voeten, observed that “a lot of research had indirect evidence for flight, but it was never really substantiated.”

“They measured the density of the bones’ outer walls and the dinosaur’s capacity to resist a pressurising force like that which a bird might experience when flapping its wings.”

The researchers examined the anatomy of the torso and wing structure of the species by using the 11 known fossils of the archaeopteryx. They measured the density of the bones’ outer walls and the dinosaur’s capacity to resist a pressurising force, like that which a bird might experience when flapping its wings. The threshold of resistance can determine the length of time that a bird can continuously fly. The measurements of the dinosaur were similar to those of quails and pheasants, who fly in short bursts, with the archaeopteryx’s blood vessel supply being similar to that of the modern bird, suggesting more of a resemblance than once believed.