Birds alive today share many characteristics of early dinosaurs. This fascinating discovery came to light in the late 1800’s when Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist, noticed some similarities. Interested in comparing the body structures of different animals, Huxley became the first person to notice that dinosaurs and birds appeared related.
Huxley’s controversial idea arose while examining a well- preserved fossil, the Archaepteryx. His examination of the Archeopteryx, particularly of its skeletal structure, revealed evidence of the similarity between the modern birds and the dinosaurs. The Archeopteryx is thought to be the very first carnivore that was also a bird. Huxley counted 35 characteristics in the Archeopteryx that birds and dinosaurs share, including their light bones, half-mooned bone wrists, ability to stand on two legs, and hinged ankles.
However, some scientists still disagreed about the connection between birds and dinosaurs. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that researchers discovered evidence to support Huxley’s hypothesis. They studied fossilized Sinsoauropteryx of the dinosaur family, which were found in China. These warm-blooded carnivores probably used their feathers to shelter their eggs but not for flying.
Sometimes it takes a plethora of evidence and many years to prove a scientific hypothesis. Although Huxley died in 1895, his discoveries weren’t proven until nearly a century later. Today, if one wants to see an Archeopteryx— the dinosaur that proved Huxley’s theories— one can visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Geology Museum, locates in the heart of our downtown campus.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; Walking With Dinosaurs]