Tiny Fossil Reveals How Prehistoric Birds Flew

A team from Spain studied a fossil from a 125-million-year-old bird.

A team from Spain studied a fossil from a 125-million-year-old bird.

Birds have an enormously long evolutionary history. However, whether these early birds were capable of flying ?and if so, how well ?has remained shrouded in scientific controversy. 

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports ?called “Soft-tissue and dermal arrangement in the wing of an Early Cretaceous bird: Implications for the evolution of avian flight??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.

As the study? abstract states:

“Despite a wealth of fossils of Mesozoic birds revealing evidence of plumage and other soft-tissue structures, the epidermal and dermal anatomy of their wing? patagia remain largely unknown. We describe a distal forelimb of an enantiornithine bird from the Lower Cretaceous limestones of Las Hoyas, Spain, which reveals the overall morphology of the integument of the wing and other connective structures associated with the insertion of flight feathers. The integumentary anatomy, and myological and arthrological organization of the new fossil is remarkably similar to that of modern birds, in which a system of small muscles, tendons and ligaments attaches to the follicles of the remigial feathers and maintains the functional integrity of the wing during flight. The new fossil documents the oldest known occurrence of connective tissues in association with the flight feathers of birds. Furthermore, the presence of an essentially modern connective arrangement in the wing of enantiornithines supports the interpretation of these primitive birds as competent fliers.?lt;/span>

An international team of Spanish paleontologists and the National History Museum? Director of the Dinosaur Institute, Dr. Luis M.Chiappe, studied the preserved wing of a 125-million-year-old bird from central Spain. Beyond the bones preserved in the fossil, the tiny wing of the ancient bird revealed details of a complex network of muscles that in modern birds controls the fine adjustments of the wing? 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,?Chiappe said. He was the investigation? senior scientist.

“It is very surprising that despite being skeletally quite different from their modern counterparts, these primitive birds show striking similarities in their soft anatomy,?said Guillermo Naval??a doctorate candidate at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the report.

Ancient birds may have flown over the heads of dinosaurs but some aspects of the precise flight modes of these early fliers still remain unclear. “The new fossil provides us with a unique glimpse into the anatomy of the wing of the birds that lived amongst some of the largest dinosaurs,?Chiappe said. “Fossils such as this are allowing scientists to dissect the most intricate aspects of the early evolution of the flight of birds.?

Other members of the research team included Dr. Jes??arug?Lob??Dr. Jos?uis Sanz, and Dr. ®gela D. Buscalioni from Madrid? Universidad Aut??a in Spain.

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