Wing bone geometry reveals active flight in Archaeopteryx.

Voeten DFAE, Cubo J, de Margerie E, Röper M, Beyrand V, Bureš S, Tafforeau P, Sanchez S

Nat Commun 9 (1) 923 [2018-03-13; online 2018-03-13]

Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx's wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.

Affiliated researcher

PubMed 29535376

DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8

Crossref 10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8

pii: 10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8
pmc: PMC5849612

Publications 9.5.0