It has been a long-standing question, and an answer may be on its way as a new found fossil reveals when early birds could truly fly, inching closer to solving the mystery.
- The earliest ancestor of modern day birds is the Archaeopteryx, that lived 150 million years ago
- The fossilized right wing dated back to 125 million years ago, in what is today’s central Spain
- It perfectly preserved bones, plumage and soft tissue found under the wing
Along with crocodiles, birds are considered to be one of the only survivors of the End of the Dinosaurs, which occurred around 66 million years ago. However, their earliest ancestor dates much further back than that. In fact, the famous Archaeopteryx lived 150 million years ago, and questions still remain about its lifestyle. It’s a well known fact that wings does not indicate the ability to fly.
That has been one of the challenging concepts paleontologists have faced for decades. Modern day birds have a highly complex evolutionary tree, and it has been difficult to ascertain whether their ancestors were able to fly. However, recent findings shed a little light on the matter.
Researchers at the University of Bristol unearthed a 125 million year old fossil in central Spain that beautifully preserved the remains from an ancient bird. This exceptional find filled in some of the gaps due to the complexity of the fossilized right wing.
It did not only perfectly preserve the articulated bones of the forelimb, but it also presented itself with vital fibers and soft tissue for research. The remains match perfectly with today’s modern birds, featuring the same complex network of ligaments, muscles and tendons that aid them take to the sky.
This intricate mechanism successfully controls position and adjustments of a bird’s wing to navigate through the air. The fact that the same was present in ancient birds indicates that at least some of them presented with aerodynamic capabilities. According to lead author of the study, Guillermo Navalón, it’s surprising that these modern feats were found in early birds.
Even though they’re quite different where it concerns their skeletal structure, their soft anatomy is remarkably similar. It’s an incredible discovery that reveals more clues into the evolutionary mystery of birds. Perhaps it might even suggest that ancient birds took to the sky earlier than previously thought.
However, these findings are just one piece of the puzzle. While they provide an “unique glimpse into the anatomy of the wings of the earliest birds”, it still remains a mystery on how accomplished they truly were. The “aerodynamic prowess” of some does not reveal the full length of their abilities.
Perhaps they were exceptional flyers and soared above the heads of dinosaurs. Or they simply might’ve been capable of short flights and stood near the ground. Researchers have found that they could fly, but not for how long.
Image source: yubanet.com