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Anchiornis

Anchiornis huxleyi

Anchiornis is a genus of small, feathered, troodontid dinosaur. The genus Anchiornis contains the type species Anchiornis huxleyi, named in honor of Thomas Henry Huxley, an early proponent of biological evolution, and the first to propose a close evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs. The generic name Anchiornis means "near bird", and its describers cited it as important in filling a gap in the transition between the body plans of flying avian birds and non-avian dinosaurs.

Anchiornis fossils have been found in the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning, China, dating somewhat uncertainly to the mid-late Jurassic period (Callovian or Oxfordian stage), 160 to 155 million years ago. This dinosaur is probably related to the birds of prey that we call "raptors".

While the first specimen of Anchiornis preserved only faint traces of feathers around the preserved portion of the body, the well-preserved second specimen showed nearly complete feather preservation, allowing researchers to identify the structure of the feathers and how they were distributed. As in other early paravians such as Microraptor, Anchiornis had large wings, made up of pennaceous flight feathers attached to the arm and hand (as in modern birds) as well as flight feathers on the hind legs, forming an arrangement of fore and hind wings. The forewing of Anchiornis was composed of 11 primary feathers and 10 secondary feathers. Unlike Microraptor, the primary feathers in Anchiornis were about as long as the secondaries and formed a more rounded wing, with curved but symmetrical central vanes, a small and thin relative size, and rounded tips, all indicating poorer aerodynamic ability compared to its later relative. In Microraptor and Archaeopteryx, the longest forewing feathers were closest to the tip of the wing, making the wings appear long, narrow, and pointed. However, in Anchiornis, the longest wing feathers anchored near the wrist, making the wing broadest in the middle and tapering near the tip for a more rounded, less flight-adapted profile.

Anchiornis is notable for its proportionally long forelimbs, which measured 80% of the total length of the hind limbs. This is similar to the condition in early avians such as Archaeopteryx, and the authors pointed out that long forelimbs are necessary for flight. Anchiornis also had a more avian wrist than other non-avialan theropods. The authors initially speculated that it would have been possible for Anchiornis to fly or glide. However, further finds showed that the wings of Anchiornis, while well-developed, were short when compared to later species like Microraptor, with relatively short primary feathers that had rounded, symmetrical tips, unlike the pointed, aerodynamically proportioned feathers of Microraptor.

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