The famous ‘Archaeopteryx’ flew like pheasants
It may be hard to get used to the idea, although some scientists have been insisting on it for years: every time we see a swallow flying through the sky, a pigeon perched on a ledge or a chicken selecting grain in a farmyard, what we are really seeing is a dinosaur. Yes, a dinosaur come to less perhaps, but ultimately, a dinosaur. Specific avian dinosaurswhich evolved from the so-called theropods. What these and other types of birds have in common is that they all have feathers. And while not all dinosaurs exhibited exuberant plumage, just as not all mammals have thick hair (we are a good example of this), a common factor in many of them was feathers.
Popularly conceived as a kind of “lizards” covered with scales, the origin of dinosaur feathers remains an evolutionary mystery. The first clues to dinosaur feathers emerged in 1861, when workers in a German quarry stumbled upon a strange fossil of what looked like a bird the size of a raven. The specimen had feathers and other features of modern birds, but also showed traces of a reptilian past, such as claws on the wings, teeth in the mouth and a long bony tail. He was 150 million years old, and was baptized as Archeopteryx. The discovery earned Charles Darwin himself as proof in favor of his Theory of the Evolution of Species, published just two years earlier, it seemed to capture a very important moment in the evolutionary metamorphosis of animals and opened the door to a new vision of the dinosaurs that has evolved over time: that of the feathered dinosaurs.
So archeopteryx it is not the only known feathered dinosaur, nor are theropods the only clade. It is known, for example, that some very different dinosaurs, the ornithischians, a clade of herbivorous dinosaurs that lived in herds generally, that inhabited the Earth between 228 and 65 million years ago, and had a worldwide distribution, also exhibited feathers. An example of this is Psittacosaurusalso known as “the parrot-billed lizard”, a genus of dinosaurs that they share order with the famous triceratops They lived between about 100 and 130 million years ago.
Just as Darwin thought, today feathered dinosaurs are considered transitional forms between classical dinosaurs and birds. In the late 1990s, the discoveries of several feathered dinosaurs in China provided conclusive proof of the connection, although the details that lead dinosaurs directly to birds, i.e., the study of their genealogy, are still to be found. at a very early stage. Be that as it may, between the year 1996 and the present more than 30 genera of non-avian feathered or protofeathered dinosaurs have been described (considered the evolutionary precursor of feathers) preserved in their fossils. Some of these even have feathers that are not exactly like those of modern birds, but are intermediate structures between a kind of down and hair that they probably used to protect themselves from the cold.
As we said a few lines ago, most of the currently known feathered dinosaur fossils have been found in China, however it is very likely that dinosaurs from other parts of the world have also been covered by feathers. This lack of evidence can be attributed to the fragility of the feathers when it comes to preserving them over millions of years. However, as new discoveries are made, we know more and more new details about feathered dinosaurs and the possible functions that they could have had. Perhaps very soon we will be able to uproot that vision of scaled lizards that we have today of dinosaurs. Maybe the next delivery of Jurassic Parkshow us a new vision of the dinosaurs that very few still have in mind.