Anchiornis, meaning “near bird” or “close to birds,” lived around 160 million years ago, and was first discovered in 2009. Paleontologists have determined the plumage color of Anchiornis by examining hundreds of fossil specimens from China and comparing the structures of their feathers to those of living birds. Like its more famous younger cousin, Archaeopteryx, who lived around 150 million years ago, Anchiornis is an example of a transitional species with features of both dinosaurs and birds. However, Anchiornis' features, such as its feather types, wing shapes, and wrist structures, place it closer to dinosaurs than Archaeopteryx. Analysis of closely related transitional fossils such as Anchiornis and Archaeopteryx suggests that bird flight evolved in early tree-climbing animals.
Artwork by Carl Buell. Special thanks to Jakob Vinther PhD, Department of Biological and Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, UK and to Carl Zimmer.