How well did Archeopteryx fly?

Special Exhibition The 10th Primal Bird - It started with a feather

Primal Archeopteryx: The fine bones of the rail and fibula shone matt, protruding from a slate slab of Solnhofen and ending in graceful feet. Clearly visible are the pointed claws of the animal. The vortices open into a long tail. And even the head of the so-called primitive bird reveals individual details. Around the delicate, almost completely preserved skeleton, the prints of a feather suit are clearly visible. - The fossil skeleton of the tenth and best preserved discovery of an Archeopteryx was investigated in 2005 by scientists of the Senckenberg Research Institute and described in detail. © Research Institute Senckenberg
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An original skeleton of the primeval bird Archeopteryx is the focus of a special exhibition at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. The world's tenth original bird find as well as replicas and photographs of the nine other primeval bird finds can be viewed there until the end of March 2007. Also in the Museum of Natural History Berlin Archeopteryx can be admired in the original from the summer of next year. However, it remains puzzling how well the original bird could actually fly.

Archeopteryx is undoubtedly one of the most popular and well-known fossils. For a long time he was considered an evolutionary link between reptiles and birds, as he had both feathers and a bird-typical "wish bone" as well as reptile-typical features such as a long bone tail, claws and teeth. But not least because of numerous new finds fledged two-legged predatory dinosaurs from the group of theropods, the primitive bird has recently been given a different status. Similarities in skeletal structure indicate that he is one of the theropod dinosaurs, from which all modern birds are descended.

So far only ten copies of the primitive bird have been found worldwide. The Senckenberg Museum of Natural History now houses one of these precious fossils on loan to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in the United States. From the summer of 2007, another fossil Archeopteryx will be exhibited in a high-security showcase at the Museum of Natural History Berlin. Visitors to these exhibitions can then ask themselves the scientifically fiercely controversial question of how well Archeopteryx could actually fly.

Heat insulation or gliding flight

Habitat of the primeval bird Archeopteryx © Research Institute Senckenberg

Because the original bird was equipped with two wings and additional feathers on the hind legs. Archeopteryx thus resembled today's predatory birds, in which the leg springs play a role especially in heat insulation and braking. However, scientists are currently discussing the function of these feathers. The current debate was initiated by the pal ontologist Nick Longrich from the University of Calgary, Canada, who had interpreted the leg feathers as feather feathers in the journal Paleobiology .

The paloontologist suspects that Archeopteryx was a glider that climbed up trees and started from there. Thus, the primitive bird would have moved much like a modern flying bird. In addition to the main wings, the rear flight feathers in particular had a stabilizing function when gliding through the air. However, this tree-down hypothesis contradicts the often-accepted -ground-up theory, according to which the flying ability of the birds is gradually becoming out of the fast Running out could have developed. display

Do not feathers fly?

For confusion, a scientific study on the four-winged dinosaur Microraptor from China had already taken place in 2004. For Per Christiansen and Niels Bonde had analyzed the little leg feathers of the dinosaur, which are similar to the Archeopteryx symmetrically arranged on the hind legs. According to Bonde & Christiansen, however, the state of preservation of the feathers did not allow for the firm conclusion that the body feathers resemble the contour feathers of today's birds. Rather, the feathers on the legs could have been simple contour feathers with open flags and no hooks that were not suitable for flying.

But whichever of the conflicting opinions about the flying ability of Archeopteryx & Co. will always prevail, one thing is already clear: the original bird did not have four, as often reported, but only two wings gel with additional springs on the hind legs. If you want to convince yourself of this, you can admire one of the Archaeopterxy originals in the Frankfurt Senckenberg Nature Museum until March 2007.


The 10th original bird - It started with a feather

Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum

Senckenberganlage 25

60325 Frankfurt on the Main

Telephone: 069 / 7542-0

Internet: Senckenberg Nature Museum

Opening hours

Daily 9am - 5pm

Wednesday until 8 pm

Saturday Sunday

u. Holidays until 6 pm

(Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum, Humboldt University Berlin, 27.12.2006 - AHE)