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Today in fossils: Archaeopteryx First bird or third? Or maybe just something we heard?


From Nature:

But starting in the 1990s, the unique status of Archaeopteryx faced a challenge from the discovery in China of other potential transitional species. Fossils of Anchiornis huxleyi and Microraptor gui reveal small-bodied creatures like Archaeopteryx, and they may have used their four wings to glide. Another, Aurornis xui, has legs, claws and a tail similar to those of Archaeopteryx, yet lived about 10 million years earlier, leading some to propose it as a better candidate for first bird (see ‘The fight for first bird’).

Many scientists now believe that Archaeopteryx is just another dinosaur. Others find this hard to swallow. “To some ornithologists this is a really big deal — Archaeopteryx is the first bird,” says Gareth Dyke, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Southampton, UK. “They’d rather cut off one of their legs than admit it has nothing to do with bird origins.”

Look, let’s carve the turkey later, okay? And check your disability plan.

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As more transitional fossils are found, the threshold between bird and not-bird will only be further blurred. Science thrives on disagreements like this. AVS

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