Jeopardy! category: DINOSAURS (21-07-2014)
$2000 clue: There are 10 or so fossils of this winged creature that some paleontologists want to reclassify as a dinosaur
The gist: What do you get when you mix a dinosaur and a bird? It might sound like the opening to a bad joke, but it turns out that Archaeopteryx, a small feathered dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago, is as good an answer as any. The first discovery of an Archaeopteryx fossil was a single feather found in the early 1860s, at a time when scientists were radically rethinking how life developed on Earth. The feather was found in a geological context that demonstrated it must have come about long before most scientists at the time thought birds came about. It had a direct effect on Darwin’s theory of evolution, since it proved that feathers on birds were predated by similar structures on earlier organisms, which strongly suggested that the feathered birds extant in Darwin’s time shared a common ancestor or ancestors in the distant past. As more fossils were discovered, a picture emerged of a small raptor-like creature with long wing and tail feathers, claws at the end of its wings, long, thin legs, and sharp-toothed jaws – features that suggested a relationship to both earlier dinosaurs and later birds. Today, it’s considered a classic transitional fossil, neatly illustrating an evolutionary “step” between the two groups. Debate still rages about the specifics of the organism – for example, while its likely that Archaeopteryx’s feathers helped it generate lift, it’s not yet settled whether it was capable of sustained flight or used them for gliding, and possibly even for balance (that link goes to a video of a modern bird balancing itself with its feathers while butchering its prey).
The clue: This is the only clue in its category to actually ask for the name of a specific organism, which is appropriate for a $2000 clue. None of the contestants knew it – it’s something that I would expect most people to encounter in an upper level high school biology class, but it’s possible that the contestants in the Teen Tournament aren’t that advanced yet. In any case, it’s almost certainly a hard enough question that it could be a high-value clue in a regular game anyway.
In Jeopardy!: This is just the fourth clue in which the Archaeopteryx has made an appearance, and the second where the creature itself was the correct response (the other one also being a $2000 clue, from 2004). The first time it appeared was in a category called “NUMBER OF LEGS ON…” as a Daily Double – knowing its relationship to birds would certainly make it easy. Besides that one, all the clues make some reference to birds (like “winged creature” in this one), which, of course, is the most important thing to know about it, both in general and in Jeopardy!.