Friday, July 29, 2011

Archaeopteryx No Longer First Bird

Sorry, the title is a tad hyperbolic but it fits with the article. A re-evaluation of Archaeopteryx has led to its removal from the subclass Aves and placed within the theropod dinosaurs. A large group of these had feathers and it is from this group that true birds arose. As the story in the Independent notes, however:

The reclassification of Archaeopteryx is expected to be exploited by creationists, who are likely to pick up on the fact that scientists are appearing to change their mind about the fossil's iconic status as the first bird, but this would be wrong, said Lawrence Witmer, professor of anatomy at Ohio University.

The reclassification does not alter the fact that Archaeopteryx possessed features that are both reptilian and avian, nor does it change the fact that birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs, he said. "What this does is change our view of Archaeopteryx. For 150 years it's been our oldest and most prominent bird. Part of the reason why we should care about this is that Archaeopteryx is probably one of the most famous fossils ever," Professor Witmer said. "It changes a lot in terms of how we view early birds, and how early birds evolved."

Indeed the evidence is now so strong that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs that recently the class aves was redesignated as a subclass of reptilia. The new fossil is thought to be around 155 million years old and is called Xiaotingia. Pharyngula has a nice rundown on what the new fossil means.

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  1. If I recall correctly from my YEC days, their position was that archaeopteryx was unambiguously a bird with no meaningful transitional features. So re-classifying it to be a reptile is definitely not a move in their favor.

  2. Yeah, the whole reclassification of birds, in general, as reptiles because of their inferred relationship to the theropod dinosaurs was not a positive move as far as YEC supporters were concerned.