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Archaeopteryx feathers (Re: Feathers on Bloody Everything)



While it is well known that _Archaeopteryx_ exhibited remiges and
rectrices (wing and tail flight feathers) which were thoroughly modern
in design, it is less well known that the Berlin specimen reveals the
presence of feathers (scarcely preserved though they may be) elsewhere
on the body that do not clearly show the advanced morphology of extant
avialan (bird) contour feathers.  The wispy hair-like appearance of
these body feathers can be seen on the Berlin _Archaeopteryx_ specimen.

See page 127 of Louie Psihoyos' _Hunting Dinosaurs_.  You can also see
Carl Vogt's very early photograph (circa 1879) of the specimen at the
Paper Dinosaurs exhibit from the collections of the Linda Hall Library
at <www.lhl.lib.mo.us/pubserv/hos/dino/images/vog1h.jpg>.  This
photograph was taken before the hips and head were cleared of matrix.
There are several illustrations of the _Archaeopteryx_ specimens at the
Paper Dinosaurs site.  The exhibit contents are listed at
<www.lhl.lib.mo.us/pubserv/hos/dino/maincont.htm>.  Check out items 14,
14a, 16, 16a, and also click on "Click here to see Heilmann's
Archaeopteryx" from 44.

The hair-like feather impressions are most readily apparent on the legs
(especially the right tibia), the breast, and the neck of the Berlin
_Archaeopteryx_.  These impressions are faint, but visible, and they do
not appear to resemble modern contour feathers.  It may well be that
telling details, such as microscopic barbs, were present in the living
animal.  If such features were indeed present, they simply were not
preserved in the fossilized impressions visible today.

Regarding the likelihood that the two known _Compsognathus_ specimens
should have preserved similar filamentous integumentary detail, one
should bear in mind that of the seven _Archaeopteryx_ fossil specimens
extant (not counting the isolated feather), so far as I know only this
one specimen reveals these delicate body feathers.

-- Ralph W. Miller III       gbabcock@best.com