Sunday, November 27, 2011

Archie the Black

Fig. 1.- Archaeopteryx might have been robed in black.

There is definitely a lot going on for Archaeopteryx, on the 150th anniversary year of its first description by science. After the discovery of the 11th specimen, followed by its demotion then reinstatement as a basal bird, another piece of information has recently surfaced about the celebrated Urvogel: its color.

In a presentation this month at the 71st annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ryan Carney and co-workers provided a glimpse of what Archaeopteryx may have look like in real life.

Using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray analyses, the team examined the iconic single feather attributed to Archaeopteryx, and detected fossilized melanosomes in it. By comparing the shape of the ancient pigment with those from 115 feathers coming from 87 species of modern birds, the team was able to determine that the color of the feather was black with 95% probability.

Fig 2.- The single feather examined for the color study of Archaeopteryx. The fossil has been described by von Meyer in 1861. (Picture credit: H. Raab, though Wikipedia)

Of course, the results from a single feather do not indicate that Archie was all robed in black like a raven, but they indicate that a least part of its plumage was dark.

Original artworks on Paleoexhibit are copyrighted to Nobu Tamura. Do not use without permission (Email: nobu dot tamura at yahoo dot com).

References:

R. Carney, J. Vinther, M. Shawkey, L. d’Alba & J. Ackermann. 2011. Black Feather Color in Archaeopteryx. 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting Abstracts, p 84.

5 comments:

  1. "Of course, the results from a single feather do not indicate that Archie was all robed in black like a raven, but they indicate that a least part of its plumage was dark."

    Actually, I don't think we can say for sure that that isolated feather is from an Archaeopteryx. So right now we can say that at least one aviremigian from the Solnhofen was black on at least one feather.

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  2. (With a 5% chance of being wrong about the color, of course.)

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  3. True... but wasn't that feather designed as the holotype of Archaeopteryx? If so, then this is the attribution to Archaeopteryx of the 10 skeletons that becomes problematic.

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  4. A neotype has been designated; it's now the London specimen: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2011/october/museums-archaeopteryx-is-the-specimen-to-refer-to104497.html

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