Archaeopteryx: The First Bird
First found in Germany in 1861, the 150- to 145-million-year-old Archaeopteryx
fossils bear impressions of flight feathers on their limbs and tails.
Why it matters:
This earliest known flying bird (illustrated here between a pigeon and an Ornitholestes
dinosaur) was discovered within two years of the publication of On the Origin of Species,
fulfilling Darwin's prediction of fossil creatures that would link major species groups—in this case, dinosaurs and birds.
Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, says this classic missing link shares features with both meat-eating dinosaurs—in the wrist, snout, tail, and pelvis—and birds, "such as asymmetrical, vaned feathers and very long, feathered wings."
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Illustration by Roy Andersen