Thursday, October 08, 2015

What's in a Wing? Aptian Cretaceous Enantiornithine Bird Shows Perfect Flight Adaptation

Birds have an enormously long evolutionary history: The earliest of them, the famed Archaeopteryx, lived 150 million years ago in what is today southern Germany. However, whether these early birds were capable of flying -- and if so, how well -- has remained shrouded in scientific controversy. A new discovery published in the journal Scientific Reports documents the intricate arrangement of the muscles and ligaments that controlled the main feathers of the wing of an ancient bird, supporting the notion that at least some of the most ancient birds performed aerodynamic feats in a fashion similar to those of many living birds.

An international team of Spanish paleontologists and NHM's Director of the Dinosaur Institute, Dr. Luis M. Chiappe, studied the exceptionally preserved wing of a 125-million-year-old bird from central Spain. Beyond the bones preserved in the fossil, the tiny wing of this ancient bird reveals details of a complex network of muscles that in modern birds controls the fine adjustments of the wing's main feathers, allowing birds to master the sky.

"The anatomical match between the muscle network preserved in the fossil and those that characterize the wings of living birds strongly indicates that some of the earliest birds were capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds," said Chiappe, the investigation's senior scientist.

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