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Earliest bird had dino-like feet

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A new fossil discovery shows that the earliest birds had feet similar to those of theropod dinosaurs (the group of two-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs that includes T. rex). The new specimen provides important details about the feet and skull of these birds and strengthens the argument -- which many but not all scientists agree on -- that modern birds arose from theropod dinosaurs.

Click here for a high resolution photograph.

In a new study, Gerald Mayr of the Forschungsintitut Seckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany and his colleagues describe the tenth and best-preserved specimen of Archaeopteryx, the first known bird.The magpie-sized specimen reveals that the bird had an extra-bendable second toe. The theropod dinosaurs proposed to be this bird's closest relatives, the "deinonychosaurs," also had this feature, which strengthens the link between Archaeopteryx and these dinosaurs.

Unlike the toes of modern birds, the first toe in this early bird was not reversed, the researchers report. Instead, the first toe pointed inward, similarly to the human thumb, indicating that the bird did not have a "perching foot." This detail shows that Archaeopteryx was less similar to modern birds than previously thought, according to the authors.

Parts of the new specimen's skull are exceptionally well-preserved and also reveal similarities with theropod skulls.

This bird, called the "Thermopolis Specimen," is from the Solnhofen limestone deposits of Bavaria, Germany and lived about 150 million years ago, during the Late Jurassic period.


The study appears in the 2 December 2005 issue of the journal Science.