PARIS (AFP).- New evidence has emerged that puts a dent into the reputation of the famous "first bird" -- Archaeopteryx, a feathered descendant of the dinosaurs, which lived around 150 million years ago.
Three-dimensional scans of skulls of early birds and dinosaurs suggests that at least a few species of dinos that were contemporaries of Archaeopteryx had brains with the likely neurological wiring for flight, according to a paper published on Wednesday.
"Archaeopteryx has always been set up as a uniquely transitional species between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds, a halfway point," said Amy Balanoff of the American Museum of Natural History. "But by studying the cranial volume of closely-related dinosaurs, we learned that Archaeopteryx might not have been so special."
Writing in the journal Nature, Balanoff's team used computed tomographic (CT) scans to get a high-resolution image of brain size and regions in a dozen existing and extinct species. Compared to reptiles, birds have large brains in relation to their body size -- a phenomenon called "hyperinflation" which provides them with the superior vision and coordination needed to flight. But the comparison turned up some bad news for Archaeopteryx.
Several other non-avian dinos that were sampled, including the feathery oviraptosaur and bird-like troodontid, had in fact larger brains relative to body size than Archaeopteryx did.