Primitive wing feather arrangement in Archaeopteryx lithographica and Anchiornis huxleyi

Nicholas R. Longrich, Jakob Vinther, Qingjin Meng, Quangguo Li, Anthony P. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In modern birds (Neornithes), the wing is composed of a layer of long, asymmetrical flight feathers overlain by short covert feathers [1-3]. It has generally been assumed that wing feathers in the Jurassic bird Archaeopteryx [4-9] and Cretaceous feathered dinosaurs [10, 11] had the same arrangement. Here, we redescribe the wings of the archaic bird Archaeopteryx lithographica [3-5] and the dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi [12, 13] and show that their wings differ from those of Neornithes in being composed of multiple layers of feathers. In Archaeopteryx, primaries are overlapped by long dorsal and ventral coverts. Anchiornis has a similar configuration but is more primitive in having short, slender, symmetrical remiges. Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis therefore appear to represent early experiments in the evolution of the wing. This primitive configuration has important functional implications: although the slender feather shafts of Archaeopteryx [14] and Anchiornis [12] make individual feathers weak, layering of the wing feathers may have produced a strong airfoil. Furthermore, the layered arrangement may have prevented the feathers from forming a slotted tip or separating to reduce drag on the upstroke. The wings of early birds therefore may have lacked the range of functions seen in Neornithes, limiting their flight ability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2262-2267
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume22
Issue number23
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2012

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