Hello loyal readers: I know you’re still there. Yet again I can’t resist the lure of posting something new when I really shouldn’t. Most of you, I’m sure, think that archaeopterygids – the archaic basal birds of Late Jurassic Germany (and Portugal too if Weigert’s (1995) identification of isolated teeth is correct) – are long extinct, but here is evidence indicating otherwise. Ha ha ha. This is actually a monument at Dotternhausen in Bavaria; it’s near a bridge that crosses the Altmühl, but I forget the exact location. If you want to see more of those archaeopterygid statues…
… below is a close-up. They aren’t exactly the best likenesses of archaeopterygids in the world, but I’ve seen worse. Note that they have no propatagium, that only two of the three fingers are visible, and that the fingers are deeply immersed in the wing plumage. If I explain why the artist chose to depict the animals in this way, I’ll be here for a while, and I regret that that just ain’t possible. Some of you might also be wondering why I’m referring to ‘archaeopterygids’ and not to plain-old Archaeopteryx. Again – for reasons that I’m going to avoid discussing right now – the taxonomy of Archaeopterygidae is somewhat complex, and while it’s true that Archaeopteryx lithographica remains the best known taxon, there are a couple of other taxa. The one that’s least-familiar to non-specialists is the large Wellnhoferia grandis, named by Elzanowski (2001) for the relatively enormous Solnhofen specimen. While recently accepted as distinct in a revision that sunk all the other species into A. lithographica (Senter & Robbins 2003), Wellnhoferia has more recently been [provisionally] sunk back into A. lithographica by Mayr et al. (2007)… who, however, agreed with Elzanowski (2002) that A. siemensii should be regarded as distinct from A. lithographica. Err, didn’t I say that I was going to avoid discussing this right now?
There are now ten skeletal archaeopterygid specimens, of course, with the newest being the awesome Thermopolis specimen (so named as it was purchased by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center). Described by Mayr et al. (2005, 2007), it demonstrates once and for all that Archaeopteryx had a hyper-extendible second toe and a hallux that was not fully reversed: it really was deinonychosaur-like as Greg Paul and others have been saying, and was not an ‘archaic modern-style bird’ as Martin and Feduccia have been trying to argue. Again, that’s an area I’m going to have to avoid discussing right now. Anyway… back to work.
Refs – –
Elzanowski, A. 2001. A new genus and species for the largest specimen of Archaeopteryx. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 46, 519-532.
– . 2002. Archaeopterygidae (Upper Jurassic of Germany). In Chiappe, L. M. & Witmer, L. M. (eds) Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. University of California Press (Berkeley), pp. 129-159.
Mayr, G., Pohl, B., Hartman, S. & Peters, D. S. 2007. The tenth skeletal specimen of Archaeopteryx. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 149, 97-116.
– ., Pohl, B. & Peters, D. S. 2005. A well-preserved Archaeopteryx specimen with theropod features. Science 310, 1483-1486.
Senter, P. & Robins, J. H. 2003. Taxonomic status of the specimens of Archaeopteryx. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23, 961-965.
Weigert, A. 1995. Isolated teeth of cf. Archaeopteryx sp. from the Upper Jurassic of the coalmine Guimarota (Portugal). Neues Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte 1995, 562-576.