Mysterious feathered dinosaur was agile flyer

Oct 23, 2012

(Phys.org)—In 2003, a mysterious and surprising dinosaur was discovered that possessed not only wings on its arms but also long feathers on each leg forming a "hind wing." This was a completely new and unexpected body plan for a vertebrate (backboned) animal. Named Microraptor, this enigmatic animal set off a firestorm of debate about the role of "hind wings" and their importance in the evolution of birds from Velociraptor-like ancestors. This debate continued for nearly a decade, but no one was able to provide an explanation that fit well with both anatomy and aerodynamics.

A new study, presented at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, may have finally solved this pressing mystery about how dinosaurs first began to fly. It is well accepted within the paleontological community that birds are the living of dinosaurs. However, key aspects of this fundamental evolutionary transition have remained mysterious, including the mechanisms by which the first flying dinosaurs were able to effectively control flight with a -like body plan. This study shows that by using the "hind wings" to steer, Microraptor would have been able to turn twice as quickly as a two-winged animal. Thus, this could have been a highly agile, airborne predator despite having a little-changed from that of its running, non-flying . This "control hypothesis" solves both of the problems of anatomy and aerodynamics that have frustrated palaeontologists for years.

Study co-author Dr. Michael Habib comments, "Microraptor is an amazing fossil animal that has caused a great deal of debate among palaeontologists. For the first time, we appear to have a solid answer to the mystery of dinosaur , as well as the function of the tail feather fan. In the process, we have solved a major problem in the evolution of dinosaur flight – the problem of control."

According to Justin Hall, lead author of the study, "This study provides a plausible mechanism by which dinosaurs that otherwise have strongly Velociraptor-like bodies could take to the air and control themselves while in flight. Obviously crashing is bad for the long-term health of the animal, but until now we had little idea how the earliest flying dinosaurs avoided such catastrophes given their rather simple wing structure."

"Ever since the discovery of the first feathered dinosaur fossil in 1996, debate about the origins and mechanisms of powered avian flight has become increasingly contentious. In this new, elegant study combining analyses of aerodynamic capabilities and phylogenetic relationships, the inevitable conclusion is that were "experimenting" with different body plans as they "learned" to fly," said Dr. Phillip Currie, President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and professor at the University of Alberta, who was not involved in the study.

Explore further: Colombia recovers archaeological gems from Spain

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ancient Birds Flew On All-Fours

Sep 26, 2006

The earliest known ancestor of modern-day birds took to the skies by gliding from trees using primitive feathered wings on their arms and legs, according to new research by a University of Calgary paleontologist. In a paper ...

Archaeopteryx and the dinosaur-bird family tree

Sep 15, 2011

The magpie-sized Archaeopteryx had bird and dinosaur features and helped show that birds evolved from dinosaurs. However, recent research in the journal Nature questions its position in the dinosaur-bird family ...

Feathers too weak for early bird flight

May 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The evolution of flight took longer than previously thought with the ancestors of modern birds “rubbish” at flying, if they flew at all, according to a Manchester scientist.

Recommended for you

Study claims cave art made by Neanderthals

Sep 01, 2014

A series of lines scratched into rock in a cave near the southwestern tip of Europe could be proof that Neanderthals were more intelligent and creative than previously thought.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2012
Have the authors of the study taken into account that the atmospheric pressure was 50 to 100% higher then than it is now?