The hand of birds revealed by early ostrich embryos
The problem of resolving the homology of the digits of the avian hand has been framed as a conflict between paleontological and embryological evidence, the former thought to support a hand composed of digits I, II, III, because of similarity of the phalangeal formulae of the earliest known bird Archaeopteryx to that of Mesozoic pentadactyl archosaurs, while embryological evidence has traditionally favored a II, III, IV avian hand. We have identified the critical developmental period for the major features of the avian skeleton in a primitive bird, the ostrich. Analysis of digit anlagen in the avian hand has revealed those for digits/metacarpals I and V, thus confirming previous embryological studies that indirectly suggested that the avian hand comprises digits II, III, IV, and was primitively pentadactyl.
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