Daniela Schwarz, Martin KundrÃt, Helmut Tischlinger, Gareth Dyke & Ryan M. CarneyÂ (2019)
Ultraviolet light illuminates the avian nature of the Berlin Archaeopteryx skeleton.
Scientific Reports 9, Article number: 6518
The question of whether the iconic avialan Archaeopteryx was capable of active flapping flight or only passive gliding is still unresolved. This study contributes to this debate by reporting on two key aspects of this fossil that are visible under ultraviolet (UV) light. In contrast to previous studies, we show that most of the vertebral column of the Berlin Archaeopteryx possesses intraosseous pneumaticity, and that pneumatic structures also extend beyond the anterior thoracic vertebrae in other specimens of Archaeopteryx. With a minimum Pneumaticity Index (PI) of 0.39, Archaeopteryx had a much more lightweight skeleton than has been previously reported, comprising an air sac-driven respiratory system with the potential for a bird-like, high-performance metabolism. The neural spines of the 16th to 22nd presacral vertebrae in the Berlin Archaeopteryx are bridged by interspinal ossifications, and form a rigid notarium-like structure similar to the condition seen in modern birds. This reinforced vertebral column, combined with the extensive development of air sacs, suggests that Archaeopteryx was capable of flapping its wings for cursorial and/or aerial locomotion.