Archaeopteryx’s reputation dented


New evidence has emerged that puts a dent into the reputation of the famous “first bird” — Archaeopteryx, a feathered descendant of the dinosaurs that lived around 150 million years ago.

Three-dimensional scans of skulls of early birds and dinosaurs suggests that at least a few species of dinosaurs that were contemporaries of Archaeopteryx had brains with the likely neurological wiring for flight, according to a paper.

“Archaeopteryx has always been set up as a uniquely transitional species between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds, a halfway point,” said Amy Balanoff of the American Museum of Natural History. “But by studying the cranial volume of closely-related dinosaurs, we learned that Archaeopteryx might not have been so special.”

Compared to reptiles, birds have large brains in relation to their body size — a phenomenon called “hyperinflation,” which provides them with the superior vision and coordination needed to flight.

But several other non-avian dinosaurs that were sampled, including the feathery oviraptosaur and birdlike troodontid, had in fact larger brains relative to body size than Archaeopteryx did.

The finding adds to evidence that the gene pool that led to the first birds was far wider than thought.