During the late-Jurassic period some 150 million years ago, a winged dinosaur known to the scientific community as Archaeopteryx walked the Earth. Despite sporting wings, however, no one could say for sure if the dino-bird could actively fly.
Image Credit: Jana Růžičková
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications this week by an international team of researchers seems to answer this long-standing question. Furthermore, it disproves existing theories that suggest Archaeopteryx was grounded or only adept at gliding.
The researchers supposedly reached their conclusion after analyzing related fossils encased in limestone slabs with a technique dubbed synchrotron microtomography at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France.
This technique allowed the researchers to get a closer look at the fossils in 3D without harming them in any way, which was probably a good thing considering their fragility and worth.
Image Credit: ESRF/Pascal Goetgheluck
Citing the study, the bones in Archaeopteryx’s wings were configured in such a way that would be ideal for active flight rather than passive flight (gliding). Then again, the configuration wasn’t quite as advanced as we see in modern birds.
"The cross-sectional architecture of limb bones is strongly influenced by evolutionary adaptation towards optimal strength at minimal mass, and functional adaptation to the forces experienced during life," elucidated study co-author Jorge Cubo, a professor at Sorbonne University in Paris.
"By statistically comparing the bones of living animals that engage in observable habits with those of cryptic fossils, it is possible to bring new information into an old discussion," added senior author Dr. Sophie Sanchez from Uppsala University in Sweden.
Archaeopteryx’s active flight capabilities represent a significant discovery because it reveals more about the ancient creature’s lifestyle and links flight-capable dinosaurs with modern birds. By studying these points, we can better understand how evolution took its course and made modern birds the skilled fliers they are today.