Pronunciation: ANG-kee-OR-niss Meaning: Near bird Author/s: Xu et al. (2009) Synonyms: ?Aurornis xui (Godefroit et al, 2013) First Discovery: Jianchang, China Chart Position: 547
(Huxley's near-bird)EtymologyAnchiornis is derived from the Greek "Anchi" (nearby) and "ornis" (bird), referring to its very close relationship to birds. The species epithet, huxleyi, honours Thomas Henry Huxley (aka "Darwin's Bulldog") — a pioneer of research into avian origins and the first scientist to suggest a close evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs.
DiscoveryThe first fossils of Anchiornis were recovered from the Yaolugou locality in the Tiaojishan Formation, Jianchang County, western Liaoning, China. The holotype (IVPP V14378, housed at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing) is an articulated skeleton complete with feather impressions, but lacking the skull and bits of the tail and right arm. A second specimen (LPM - B00 169), reported on 24th September 2009, was larger than the holotype and virtually covered from head to toe in various kinds of feathers.
Soft tissuePalaeontologists and Palaeoartists have a tough job trying to discern the exact shape of extinct dinosaurs, mainly because soft tissue—the stuff that adds bulk and form to the fossilised skeletal frame— is rarely found, so reconstructions are arrived at via the study of living dinosaurs—birds, and their distant relatives—crocodilians. Inspired in 2017 by pioneer Tom Kaye, Xiaoli Wang and crew tried to shed some light on the actual form of extinct dinosaurs, funnily enough by dragging a dozen stone slabs containing specimens of Anchiornis into a blacked-out room. Then they blasted them with high-powered ultraviolet lasers to agitate any remnants of soft tissue that were invisible to the naked eye, and literally made them "glow in the dark".
Because of exquisite visible outlines, we already knew that Anchiornis was feathered, and we knew what color those feathers were because of fossilised pigment cells (melanosomes). But thanks to Kaye's technique—called laser-stimulated fluorescence (or LSF), the results of which were captured using a hd camera with a laser blocking filter—we now know that Anchiornis was just as bird-like as expected. It had arms that look just like modern bird wings right down to the patagium (skin flap) in front of the elbow that joins the upper and lower arm, scaley pads on the base of its feet, and even drumstick-shaped legs. Unfortunately, non of the dozen or so specimens revealed any details of the head, neck or thorax, or any evidence to suggest whether Anchiornis was, or was not, capable of flapping-flight.