Putting the foot down on birds, dinosaurs

Natural History

December 02, 2005|By DENNIS O'BRIEN | DENNIS O'BRIEN,SUN REPORTER

Analysis of a rare specimen of the earliest known bird bolsters the theory that modern birds arose from dinosaurs -- they had dinosaur-like feet.

A study of an Archaeopteryx specimen found in Germany shows that unlike modern birds, the ancient version lacked the perching foot of a modern bird. Instead, it had a first toe that pointed inward, similar to the human thumb.

The magpie-sized bird also could hyperextend its second toe, making it similar to the deinonychosaur, a theropod dinosaur thought to be its closest relative.

The Archaeopteryx lived about 150 million years ago.

The study, published today in Science, was conducted by researchers from the Senckenburg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

The specimen was found in the Solnhofen limestone deposits of Bavaria and was in a private collection before being acquired recently by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyo.

The researchers say the findings support theories that birds descended from theropods, a group of dinosaurs that includes the sharply clawed Velociraptor. But other experts dispute that notion.

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