Archaeopteryx could fly, but not very well

The Munich specimen of Archaeopteryx

A unusual dinosaur called Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, advanced X-ray scans of its 150 million year old fossilised remains have revealed.

Experts probed inside the raven sized beast, finding that the Jurassic creature flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance active flight. We would discover in the years following that modern birds are closely related to dinosaurs - so closely related, in fact, that many species could even be considered modern-day dinosaurs.

Using a non-invasive method for scanning fossils called "synchrotron microtomography", a research team at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France was able to create three-dimensional models of an Archaeopteryx fossil's interior, allowing them to get a much closer look at the dino's inner working without damaging the fossil.

Scientists discovered that it would have only used its power of flight for short bursts and distances, most likely to escape risky situations.

Present day pheasants adopt the same strategy when they take to the air to avoid predators, or gun-waving humans.

Scanning the Archaeopteryx fossil using X-rays
Scanning the Archaeopteryx fossil using X-raysESRF Pascal Goetgheluck

Archaeopteryx - which means "ancient wing" - lived in the Late Jurassic period in what is now southern Germany.

A WINGED dinosaur widely regarded as the first bird flew in short bursts like a pheasant, scientists say. The first fossil skeleton of one of the creatures, known as the London Specimen, was unearthed in 1861 near Langenaltheim and is housed at London's Natural History Museum.

As mentioned above, modern birds are descendants of similar dinosaurs, but Voeten says that the Archaeopteryx was probably not a direct ancestor of birds like the sparrow or ostrich, instead representing an offshoot lineage - a statement backed up by the fact that the Archaeopteryx took flight in quite a weird manner.

Archaeopteryx could reach up to 0.5 m and, despite its small size, Archaeopteryx had more things in common with a Theropod dinosaur than with modern birds.

While birds are some of the closest living relatives to dinosaurs - for example a chicken is surprisingly one of the closest relatives to the fearsome tyrannosaurus rex - the Archaeopteryx actually represents a dead end in an evolutionary tree, meaning it was the last of its kind.

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