Archaeopteryx: The Early Bird

140 Million BC
14 Inches
5 Pounds


In 1861, when German stone cutters discovered the nearly perfect fossil imprint of Archaeopteryx in a block of 140-million-year-old limestone in a stone quarry, they didn't know what to make of it. At first, scientists thought the fossil was the imprint of a tiny meat-eating dinosaur. Then they realized that the faint outlines surrounding the skeleton were actually imprints of feathers.

As it turned out, the discovery of Archaeopteryx was one of the most important finds ever. It proved what many scientists had long believed. There was a strong link between the dinosaurs of long ago and the birds we know today.

Indeed, Archaeopteryx was something of a cross between a dinosaur and a modern bird. About the same size as a pigeon, it had a small head, large eyes and feathers which covered most of its body. But like dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx had teeth in its jaw, claws on its fingers and a long, bony tail. Also, the bones throughout its body were much heavier than a bird's and it didn't have as many muscles with which to flap its wings. Instead of flying, Archaeopteryx probably used its wings to fly short distances or glide from tree to tree catching insects or occasionally attacking small animals on the ground.

ORDER: Saurischia
SUBORDER: Theropoda
INFRAORDER: Coelurosauria
FAMILY: Archaeopterygidae

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