Thursday, April 12, 2012

Munich Archaeopteryx

Perhaps the most iconic fossil of a (potentially) flying animal is Archaeopteryx.  Debates on the flight ability of Archaeopteryx abound in the literature.  One of the more recent investigations of this issue considered feather strength, which is an interesting approach, but may suffer from significant error is feather measurements or body mass estimates are imprecise.  I take my own approach to the problem, which is to look at the bending strength of the bones, rather than the feathers.  I've done this for a wide range of living birds, but only a couple of specimens of Archaeopteryx, which is why I have yet to formally publish the results (though I have given a conference presentation on them at SVP).  One of the specimens I have data for is the Munich Archaeopteryx, shown in the photo at left.  It's not the best photo, but I managed to grab it quickly while measuring the specimen at the BSPG in Munich, Germany.  Regardless of the ultimate flight status of Archaeopteryx, working with a specimen of this historical importance was a real treat.  My special thanks goes out to David Hone, who organized the meeting where I examined the specimen.

I will be writing more on Archaeopteryx and other species relevant to the origin of birds in the coming months.  I have quite a few posts lined up on the topic; some more quantitative than others.  For now, however, it is back to my teaching duties, so today's installment is necessarily brief.

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