We Just Found the Missing Link Between Dinosaurs and Birds
These days, it seems like a new, breakthrough dinosaur discovery is happening every week—we recently discovered an Australian dino that thrived in polar temperatures and complete darkness, a rainbow-feathered dino in China that changed our timeline of Earth's history, and a little turkey-sized dino that shed light on a whole prehistoric ecosystem. Now we have what may be the oldest species of Archaeopteryx, the key link between dinosaurs and birds, and it's a doozy.
The first Archaeopteryx skeleton was found in 1861 in Germany and became a key element to Dawin's recently revealed theory of evolution. It was originally dubbed "first bird" by German archaeologists, based on the belief that the dinosaur was at the root of the evolutionary tree for birds. The skeleton itself had both reptile and bird features, including feathers, and weighed betwen 1.8 and 2.2 pounds. It was about the size of a modern raven, though with a featherless neck and head and a set of sharp teeth.
Those teeth may be the key to understanding Archaeopteryx. This most recent Archaeopteryx skeleton, found by another German team from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in 2010, is the earliest example found of the genus, and probably lived around 150 million years ago.
What's strange is that this specimen has different teeth than any of the other skeletons from the genus—in fact, none of the twelve Archaeopteryx skeletons found so far have the same set of teeth, which paleontologists theorize means that each one had evolved to eat different things.
According to Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist from LMU:
"This is very reminiscent of the famous case of Darwin's finks on the Galapagos, which show remarkable variation in their beak shapes. It is even conceivable that this primeval bird genus might, in a similar fashion, have diversified into several specialized forms on the islands of the Solnhofener Archipelago. In that case, the Archaeopteryx fossils could represent a species flock, a Jurassic analogue of Darwin's finches."
If this hypothesis is correct, it could open up a whole new understanding of birds' evolutionary development and these tiny, murderous, flying dinosaurs.