The Archaeopteryx, the most famous of flying dinosaurs, probably flapped through the air when it lived about 150 million years ago.
Findings of a new study, however, revealed that the feathered dinosaur did not fly as gracefully as modern-day birds.
In a new study reported in Nature Communications on Tuesday, March 13, researchers used a powerful X-ray machine called synchrotron to examine the wing architecture of the prehistoric creature and then, compared it to those of closely-related dinosaurs, birds, and now extinct flying reptiles pterosaurs.
Dennis Voeten, the study researcher from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, and colleagues found that the wing bone characteristics of the Archaeopteryx closely resembled those of turkeys and roadrunners, birds that are comfortable on the ground but are capable of flying.
“The bone walls of Archaeopteryx were much thinner than those of earthbound dinosaurs but looked a lot like conventional bird bones,” Voeten said.
“The bones of Archaeopteryx plot closest to those of birds like pheasants that occasionally use active flight to cross barriers or dodge predators, but not to those of gliding and soaring forms such as many birds of prey and some seabirds that are optimised for enduring flight.”
Voeten explained that the muscle groups that move the wings of modern birds up and down are attached at the breastbone similar to a pulley system. Humans use muscles that are anchored in the chest and shoulders if they flap their arms to mimic a bird. The wings of Archaeopteryx are attached to it like human arms and did not have chest pulley.
It suggests that the feathered dinos likely used a specialized flapping motion. The researchers said that the Archaeopteryx could fly but a bit different from modern birds.
The now extinct creature’s shoulder joints would not have allowed it to beat its wings in a similar fashion. The Archaeopteryx also likely flew in bursts and over relatively short distances.
“Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds,” the researchers wrote in their study.
Archaeopteryx lived during the late Jurassic Period. They are often considered as the earliest bird albeit they have many of the characteristics that indicate a dinosaur heritage.
They have feathers like modern avian species, but earlier studies suggest that these creatures evolved their feathers before they learned how to fly.