In 1860 in Germany, an unusual fossil was found that shocked the world. It seemed to be a strange combination of a dinosaur and a bird. It was the 150 million-year-old fossil of Archaeopteryx. The skeleton looked like a normal two-legged meat-eating dinosaur, but it had one very special feature: feathers. Its feathers are how it got its name, which means “ancient wing”. It is the oldest known fossil with feathers. It may be the most important fossil ever found. Was it a bird? Was it a dinosaur? Or was it something in between? The fossil is so important because it showed how dinosaurs – and all living things – change over time to become new, very different creatures. This makes them better able to survive, especially if there are changes to the environment. This idea is called evolution.
Archaeopteryx was a small, bird-like dinosaur, about the size of crow. The length of its wings was about 1.5 feet and it was about one foot long from beak to tail. It probably weighed between 11 and 18 ounces. Its bones were fragile and hollow, which is what made it so light. It had sharp teeth, claws on its wings, and a long bony tail. Like many small predators, Archaeopteryx ate insects, lizards and leftover meals of other, larger dinosaurs. This means that it was a scavenger. But what made Archaeopteryx special were its feathers. They were the first feathers to grow on any animal, and they grew in exactly same pattern as in modern birds.
We believe that this dinosaur was able to fly, but not very well. It most likely used its wings to jump from tree to tree. It might have been able to catch insects while they were flying. Some people think that this dinosaur was the first bird, but most paleontologists believe that the creature was an evolutionary “dead-end”. This means that it died out and never changed into a different kind of animal. Archaeopteryx died out at the end of the Cretaceous period. Paleontologists believe that birds evolved from a certain kind of theropod dinosaur: a group of deadly “raptors” like Deinonychus and Velociraptor. A total of eight Archaeopteryx skeletons have been found, as well as many beautiful fossils of feathers.