ARCHAEOPTERYX HAD BLACK FEATHERS, according to reports in ScienceDaily 24 January 2012 and ABC News in Science 25 January 2012 and Nature Communications, 2012; 3: 637 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1642. An international team of scientists has carried out a detailed study of an Archaeopteryx feather, and have found fossilised melanosomes, microscopic pigment-containing granules, in the feather. These granules have been previously seen in other fossils but have been thought to be bacteria. In 2006 one of the research team noted that fossilised squid ink sacs contained melanin granules and looked for melanosomes in other fossils, such as feathers. The research team examined an Archaeopteryx feather with an electron microscope and carefully measured the size and shape of the melanosomes. They then compared them with melanosomes in 87 species of living birds of various colours, and claimed they were 95 percent certain Archaeopteryx had black feathers. The scientists also used the microscope to study the fine structure of the feather and found the barbules and melanosomes within them were arranged in an identical fashion to living birds. Barbules are the tiny interlocking projections on the barbs of a feather that give it strength, especially during flight. The overall structure of the feather indicated it was a “covert” – wing feathers that cover the primary and secondary flight feathers. Melanosomes are thought to contribute to the strength and resilience of bird feathers as well as being a colour pigment. Ryan Carney, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, who is the lead author of the Nature Communications report commented: “We can't say its proof that Archaeopteryx was a flier. But what we can say is that in modern bird feathers, these melanosomes provide additional strength and resistance to abrasion from flight, which is why wing feathers and their tips are the most likely areas to be pigmented. With Archaeopteryx, as with birds today, the melanosomes we found would have provided similar structural advantages, regardless of whether the pigmentation initially evolved for another purpose”.
Links: ABC, ScienceDaily
ED. COM. This study confirms that Archaeopteryx feathers were fully formed feathers with all the fine structure seen in feathers of living birds. Therefore, it is no help to a theory that claims feathers evolved from reptile scales. Archaeopteryx is sometimes described as a “flying dinosaur” or an “early bird”, and is considered to be the archetypal “transitional form”. However, all studies of the creature reveal it is a fully formed functional creature. The fact that it has an unusual combination of features, not seen in living creatures today, does not mean it is in the process of changing from one kind to another. Instead it is simply a “curious mosaic” as described by Stephen Jay Gould. (Gould, S.J. and N. Eldredge. “Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered.” Paleobiology, 3 (1977): 115-151. p. 147) For more on “feathered dinosaurs” see our answer to the question "Don’t feathered dinosaurs prove the birds evolved from dinosaurs?" Click here
The squid ink connection is interesting. Creation Research has recently acquired a beautifully preserved fossil squid with an intact ink sac and we were able to extract some of the ink and write with it. See “Fossil Ink Should Make You Think” here.
(Ref. vertebrates, fossils, pigment)
Evidence News 8 February 2012