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John Speakman's current article in Nature (summarized in the Feb. issue of
Earth magazine) concludes that archaeopteryx had neither asymmetrical
feathers, nor muscle-mass for flight.
His conclusions are that archy must have been a land-based predator.
This lends itelf well to the recent debate on how flight began. The Earth
magazine article suggests that the asymmetrical nature of archy's feathers
may be an inherited characteristic. Of course since we don't know of any
earlier flying ancestor, we must assume that archaeopteryx is still a direct
Perhaps archaeopteryx had not evolved full-fledged flight, but was on the
right path. It's descendant's feathers became more asymmetrical, the muscles
became stronger, sternum more keeled , etc.
What is the opinion of John Speakman's work? I, for one, cannot agree with
his suggestion that the slightly asymmetrical feathers were used for shade!
More than likely, they provided enough lift for quick leaps at prey.
Assistant Education Curator
Natural Science Center of Greensboro