STL Science Center

STL Science Center

14 January 2012


©Alain Beneteau
Archaeopteryx, known in German as Urvogel- First Bird- had a good 150th anniversary last year. Thanks to science and laser x-ray technology in particular along with scanning electron microscopes, the holotype feather of Archaeopteryx yielded a discovery of fossil melanosomes. This discovery makes Archaeopteryx drawings like Alain Beneteau's black and white bird with chicks almost reasonably well colored despite the lack thereof. Melanosomes are cells containing melanin, a dark pigment that makes up the coloring in darker skin and darker plumage. The research that led to this on the holotype feather depends heavily on the notion that this solitary feather is indeed an Archaeopteryx feather and the indications are very favorable that it is, but every theory has detractors. Most of these arguments are found, strangely enough, in Christian Science and Creationist publications.

©Nobu Tamura
To truly see what the raven colored Archaeopteryx would look like we have to venture no further than the work of Nobu Tamura, whom we have seen work by in the past. Personally, I feel that if all the plumage were of a raven's color, it would be one sleek shadowy proto-bird and, despite it's small size, would be a scary, yet beautiful and intriguing, animal to watch in the wild. Actually, considering Tamura's image, I'd probably want to try to keep one as a pet. The only downfall to having an Archaeopteryx as a pet, other than the typical problem with owning birds (foul smelling droppings being tops on my list of why I don't keep birds in my apartment next to "my wife is scared of birds") is that it has functional teeth and the nasty claws on its feet. I wouldn't be too afraid of the wing claw as that was well on its way to being as useful as my appendix, but the feet and the teeth make it a dangerous little chicken.

©Vladimir Nikolov
Speaking of those feet, Vladimir Nikolov's Archaeopteryx shows off those claws fantastically. They're small, the toothed beak (I use beak the same way people might say its nose, I'm not inferring that it possessed a horn covered beak like modern birds) is small too but that's no less of a reason to fear what damage it could do to you or I were this animal still alive and roaming about with its own free will, but they are quite deadly I am sure. I like how he has gone away from the typical, and this was done before the study that announced the melanosomes, coloration of bright reds and greens and dark hued blues. The cool grey, almost blue, of this animal looks perfect. An animal like this, even though not a darker color, could hide in the shadows just as well if not better and would probably make a very good underbrush or arboreal hunter, depending on one's take of the mechanism of flight exhibited by the Archaeopteryx.

©Mette Aumula
This, of course, brings us to those wings. I love how simplistic yet beautiful Mette Aumula's proto-bird is. The simple color scheme reminds me of a tern, and I love watching terns fly for some odd reason that I cannot explain. The wings are colored in the way of many modern coastal birds in existing species. In my personal opinion, that lends itself to images in my mind of Archaeopteryx gliding silently through the forest on wings meant to fly, though the legs designed to run are still there as well; I suppose Archaeopteryx, in my full imagination, is a lot like the roadrunner and a chicken combined, a chicken that could at the very least climb a tree and glide out of it to the ground or another tree. That wing, that ancient wing, was useful one way or another, though. The claws on it, seen only in Hoatzin in modern birds and then only as chicks, were of little use to the living animal. The feathers, if carefully noticed, come off the fingers and not the wrist, which is accurate with the fossils.

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