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Archaeopteryx (pronounced ark-ee-OP-ter-icks) is the earliest-known bird. It lived during the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago, when many dinosaurs lived. Paleontologists think that Archaeopteryx was a dead-end in evolution and that early coelurosaurian theropods (a group of meat-eaters that included dinosaurs like Deinonychus and Velociraptor) led to the birds.

Anatomy: Archaeopteryx seems to be part-bird and part-dinosaur. Unlike modern-day birds, it had teeth, three claws on each wing, a flat sternum (breastbone), belly ribs (gastralia), and a long, bony tail. Like modern-day birds, it had feathers, a lightly-built body with hollow bones, a wishbone (furcula) and reduced fingers.

This crow-sized animal may have been able to fly, but not very far and not very well. Although it had feathers and could fly, it had similarities to dinosaurs, including its teeth, skull, lack of a horny bill, and certain bone structures. Archaeopteryx had a wingspan of about 1.5 feet (0.5 m) and was about 1 foot ( 30 cm) long from beak to tail.

Diet: Archaeopteryx was a carnivore, a meat-eater. It may have eaten insects and other small animals.

Fossils: Seven detailed fossil impressions of this early bird have been found in Germany. Archaeopteryx was named by paleontologist Hermann von Meyer in 1861.

Classification: Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Aves, Genus Archaeopteryx, Species lithographica (von Meyer, 1861), bavarica (Wellnhofer, 1993).



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