The fossils of Archaeopteryx were discovered in 1861 and this amazing discovery shocked the world of science at that time. Sometimes referred to by its German name – Urvogel (“The first bird”) it was the first creature that possibly creates a link in evolution between reptiles and birds.
The Archaeopteryx's body structure is very close to that of the dinosaurs
Archaeopteryx lived 150 million years ago and is the oldest animal that resembles a bird. The fossils show that its body was covered in feathers and the long legs were very similar to those of a bird. There is one bird in the present that is in a way similar to the Archaeopteryx – the Hoatzin, whose wings end with claws, suited for climbing trees. Even now the Hoatzin are poorly suited for flying and prefer climbing trees.
Fossils of the Archaeopteryx were found in Bavaria, where in the Late Jurassic period when the bird lived was a tropical climate. This bird inhabited tropical forests and jungle and was fairly small compared to its contemporaries – only about 35 cm in length, and research has shown that it weighed around 300-400 grams.
Although its body was covered in feathers, the Archaeopteryx was not suited for flying long distances. Modest theories suggest the Archaeopteryx used its highly developed legs to run on the ground until air flows helped them take off. Its wings ended with sharp claws, which the bird may have used to climb trees and computer simulations approve this theory, suggesting that Archaeopteryx was a very good climber and may have even spent part of his life in trees.
The Archaeopteryx's wings weren't developed enough for constant flying
It is almost certain that the Archaeopteryx was a warm-blooded animal, unlike its closest relatives – dinosaurs of the Coelurosauria class. Bearing such close resemblance to birds of the present, it is speculated that Archaeopteryx made nests and kept their eggs warm. This might not seem a big deal, but in fact it is a great evolutionary step from dinosaurs. Modern scientists think that the Archaeopteryx evolved from small dinosaurs that ran on their hind legs and climbed trees.
Archaeopteryx’s massive jaws were filled with small, sharp teeth. Advanced leg structure, making it able to attain high speeds also suggest that the bird was not a herbivore. On the other hand, the Archaeopteryx couldn’t have been a carnivore, because most of the animals living at that time were too big for this bird to hunt them. Therefore it’s thought that their diet consisted mostly of insects, reptiles and other small creatures.
The discovery of this ancient bird-like creature was a shocking discovery, because the nearest bird fossil found dates around 30 million years after the time Archaeopteryx lived in. Supposedly marking a connection between dinosaurs and birds, this prehistorical bird is another piece in the great puzzle called evolution.