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I came upon an interesting article today in "Earth" magazine. It seems
there is some debate now over the ability of archaeopteryx to fly.
According to University of Aberdeen zoologist John Speakman, the feathers
of archaeopteryx were not asymmetrical enough to provide the proper lift
for the ave/ reptile. He based this on a study of present day birds, both
fliers and the flightless, and concluded that the position of the central
shaft of the feather in archaeopteryx put it in the realm of the flightless
The reason for the feathers then? According to Speakman, there exist a
couple of possibilities. Perhaps the feathers were use for insulation, or
perhaps for camoflage, or, because it is thought that archaeopteryx was a
shallow water hunter, maybe they were used to shade the water from the suns
blinding glare. This would allow them to see their prey better.
It still leaves the nagging question of why archaeopteryx would evolve
asymmetrical in the first place.