The flight of Archaeopteryx

Naturwissenschaften. 2003 Jan;90(1):27-32. doi: 10.1007/s00114-002-0385-0. Epub 2003 Jan 11.


The origin of avian flight is often equated with the phylogeny, ecology, and flying ability of the primitive Jurassic bird, Archaeopteryx. Debate persists about whether it was a terrestrial cursor or a tree dweller. Despite broad acceptance of its arboreal life style from anatomical, phylogenetic, and ecological evidence, a new version of the cursorial model was proposed recently asserting that a running Archaeopteryx could take off from the ground using thrust and sustain flight in the air. However, Archaeopteryx lacked both the powerful flight muscles and complex wing movements necessary for ground takeoff. Here we describe a flight simulation model, which suggests that for Archaeopteryx, takeoff from a perch would have been more efficient and cost-effective than from the ground. Archaeopteryx may have made short flights between trees, utilizing a novel method of phugoid gliding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Models, Biological
  • Paleontology
  • Phylogeny