Q:

What was archaeopteryx and why was it important?

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Quick Answer

Archaeopteryx is a fossil animal that became famous because it had a combination of reptilian and distinctly bird-like characteristics, which implied support for Darwin's theory of natural selection. Scientists initially hailed it as the first bird. Today, scientists classify all dinosaurs as birds, and some of Archaeopteryx's bird-like traits have been discovered in subsequent fossils of animals once considered entirely reptilian in appearance.

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Full Answer

Hermann von Meyer, a German palaeontologist, studied the first Archaeopteryx fossil ever discovered in 1861. The fossil was remarkable because it clearly preserved the impression of delicate feathers within the stone. Darwin's "The Origin of Species" had been published in 1859, generating great debate and controversy. The fossil animal examined by von Meyer, with its mouth full of teeth, long tail and feathery, clawed arms, appeared to be a true missing link between reptiles and birds. Scientists today recognize that there are too many bird-like traits found amongst the clade Dinosauria to classify them as anything other than birds. Many dinosaurs, especially those in the maniraptor group, such as Velociraptor, had feathers and even wings. In fact, maniraptors are actually considered the direct ancestors of birds instead of Archaeopteryx, which is now considered an offshoot. The birds we see today are considered to be avian dinosaurs, whereas animals such as Stegosaurus, which had fewer modern bird traits, are called non-avian dinosaurs.

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Related Questions

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    What does the theory of evolution state?

    A:

    Darwin's theory of evolution states that evolution happens by natural selection. According to the evolutionary theory, the genes that allow a species to thrive are passed down from parent to offspring. Individuals of a particular species often have a wide range of variation and this variation occurs because of a difference in genes. Any individuals that possess the characteristics that will help the species thrive and survive in a particular environment will be the ones to reproduce.

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  • Q:

    How does comparative embryology support the theory of evolution?

    A:

    Comparative embryology supports the theory of evolution because scientists have found that the embryos of many different species show similarities, which implies they share a common origin. For example, in humans the embryo passes through a stage in which it has a gill structure similar to that of fish. Human embryos also have a tail, much like other primates, though the tail is usually re-absorbed before birth, and this suggests that, even though their adult forms are different, these various species all have a common ancestor.

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    What are the two classes of dinosaurs?

    A:

    Beginning in 1887, dinosaurs have been divided into two main categories: saurischian, which means "lizard hipped," and ornithischian, which means "bird hipped." This classification is based on the dinosaurs' pelvic bone structure. Though the name "bird hipped" may seem to indicate that these prehistoric animals are related to birds, that is not necessarily the case.

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    What did pterodactyls eat?

    A:

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