New Archaeopteryx fossil provides further insight into bird, dinosaur evolution

One thing I love about this place is how random interesting tangents will spring up in the comments. I wrote a brief post awhile back about some funny/sad AiG cartoons, which morphed into a discussion of snake evolution in the comments section. Dr. Fry’s comments in that discussion led to 2 follow-up posts on his work on the evolution of snake venom, and in the second thread, here, Steviepinhead has mentioned a new Archaeopteryx finding with better-preserved feet:

Steviepinhead wrote:

…A new Archaeopteryx fossil with exquisitely-preserved feet has been found. In previous finds, the feet were fairly scrunched up. Because there were enough other bird-like features, the less faithfully-preserved feet were assumed to be bird-like as well, with a rear-pointing toe.

It turns out that that toe actually points forward, and is set off to one side, strongly resembling the arrangement of toes of Velociraptor and similar dinosaurs.

Thus, Archaeopteryx turns out to be even more of a mosaic of bird and dino features than previously thought. You might even call it a transitional fossil.

Early-bird fossil features dinosaur feet

When it comes to feet, the earliest-known bird species had more in common with Velociraptors than cardinals.

Modern bird feet have a hind toe that points backward and helps the birds perch on branches, power lines, and pirates’ shoulders. And until a recent discovery of an extremely well-preserved skeleton of the earliest-known bird species, Archaeopteryx, scientists believed it too had a “perching toe.”

The new fossil, known as the “Thermopolis specimen,” is incredibly well-preserved. It left clear impressions of its wing and tail feathers in the limestone it was encased in, and the skull is the best-preserved of all the 10 specimens ever discovered. But it may be the feet that prove to be the most important aspect of the find.

Other links:
Science summary Science research article

There was some initial discussion in the PT thread I mentioned above (Steviepinhead’s post is here to begin the topic), but I thought it was new enough to begin a new discussion of the findings in a thread of its own. So…discuss!