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Archaeopteryx plumage: First show off, then take-off
Date:7/3/2014

Paleontologists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich are currently studying a new specimen of Archaeopteryx, which reveals previously unknown features of the plumage. The initial findings shed light on the original function of feathers and their recruitment for flight.

A century and a half after its discovery and a mere 150 million years or so since it took to the air, Archaeopteryx still has surprises in store: The eleventh specimen of the iconic "basal bird" so far discovered turns out to have the best preserved plumage of all, permitting detailed comparisons to be made with other feathered dinosaurs. The fossil is being subjected to a thorough examination by a team led by Dr. Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at LMU Munich, who is also affiliated with the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich. The first results of their analysis of the plumage are reported in the latest issue of Nature. The new data make a significant contribution to the ongoing debate over the evolution of feathers and its relationship to avian flight. They also imply that the links between feather development and the origin of flight are probably much more complex than has been assumed up to now.

"For the first time, it has become possible to examine the detailed structure of the feathers on the body, the tail and, above all, on the legs," says Oliver Rauhut. In the case of this new specimen, the feathers are, for the most part, preserved as impressions in the rock matrix. "Comparisons with other feathered predatory dinosaurs indicate that the plumage in the different regions of the body varied widely between these species. That suggests that primordial feathers did not evolve in connection with flight-related roles, but originated in other functional contexts," says Dr. Christian Foth of LMU and the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geolog
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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
presse@lmu.de
0049-892-180-3423
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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