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Modern bird link to dinosaurs

06 December 2005

More evidence has been uncovered to support the theory that modern birds are the descendants of dinosaurs.

Scientists have studied the feet of a new specimen of the earliest fossil bird and found them to be almost identical to the feet of the theropods, the group that includes all meat-eating dinosaurs (including T.rex ).

First known bird

Archaeopteryx was a small meat-eating bird with feathers and dinosaur-like features such as teeth and clawed hands. It is the first known bird, living around 147 million years ago during the Upper Jurassic Period.

Ten specimens

Previously there were only nine specimens of Archaeopteryx , seven of which have been described scientifically. This tenth find, like the others from Bavaria, is very well preserved, especially around the head and feet.

Hyperextendible toe

Gerald Mayr of the Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany and his colleagues studied this tenth specimen and found the feet were anatomically almost identical to theropods. They discovered a hyperextendible second toe, meaning a limb or joint that can be extended beyond its normal limits, very similar to the large claw of a Velociraptor .

More than 150 years of study

'It is fascinating that we are still learning more about Archaeopteryx after more than 150 years of study,' says Dr Angela Milner, palaeontology expert at the Natural History Museum.

'This research shows yet one more dinosaur-like feature whereas other recent research on Archaeopteryx , led by the Natural History Museum, demonstrated its bird-like brain and ear.'

Dr Angela Milner continues 'Archaeopteryx is certainly a "half-way house" between what we traditionally think of as small theropod dinosaurs and birds. The evidence for the origin of birds from theropod dinosaurs is both extensive and overwhelming.'

The research is reported in the journal Science.