A new specimen of the ancient dinosaur bird Archaeopteryx, whose hind limbs were covered in trousers of feathers, has been discovered in Germany.
The scientists, who report their findings in the journal Nature, say the specimen will add to our knowledge of how birds evolved feathers
The discovery of numerous feathered dinosaurs and early birds in the past decade has improved our knowledge of the evolutionary context of Archaeopteryx.
However, previous Archaeopteryx specimens have yielded little information about the bird’s feathers.
Oliver Rauhut and colleagues describe a new Archaeopteryx specimen from Germany, only the eleventh to be discovered since 1861.
They found a well-preserved covering of quill-like feathers all over the creature’s body: not only on the wings and tail, but also on the body and legs. The upper hindlimbs display long, symmetrical feathers, and there are shorter feathers along the lower hindlimbs.
These observations suggest that feather distribution during the origin and evolution of birds was more complex than previously thought.
An analysis of the distribution of pennaceous feathers in other early birds and feathered dinosaurs suggests that these feathers evolved in a functional context other than flight — probably in relation to display — and were later recruited for aerodynamic functions.
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