Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Prehistoric birds were poor flyers, research shows

Date:
May 26, 2010
Source:
University of Manchester
Summary:
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 scientists.

Archaeopteryx.
Credit: Image courtesy of Todd Marshall

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 scientists.

Related Articles


Archaeopteryx, the theropod dinosaur believed to be the earliest bird, was discovered 150 years ago but debates about how flight evolved still persist. The two theories are that flight evolved in running bipeds through a series of short jumps or that Archaeopteryx leapt from tree to tree using its wings as a balancing mechanism.

Dr Robert Nudds at The University of Manchester is carrying out a series of biomechanical investigations to shed light on the subject with his colleague Dr Gareth Dyke at University College Dublin.

For their latest paper Dr Nudds and Dr Dyke applied a novel biomechanical analysis to the flight feathers of the early birds Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis to find out if they were strong enough to allow flight.

They found that the dinosaur feathers' much thinner central stem (rachis) must have been solid or they would have broken under the lift forces generated during flight or by gusts of wind. This solid structure is very different to modern birds, whose rachises are broader, hollow straws. If the dinosaurs' feathers had had hollow rachises, they would not have been able to fly at all.

"These are surprising results," says Dr Nudds, whose findings are published in Science.

"I thought the feathers would be strong enough with a hollow rachis to fly but they weren't. Even with a solid rachis, they were not very good. These dinosaurs were rubbish at flying.

"This pushes the origin of flapping flight to after Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis. It must have come much later."

It is impossible to tell from fossils whether the rachises were solid or hollow. However Dr Nudds, at Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences, believes the dinosaurs' feathers were solid and therefore they could fly, but very poorly.

"The fossilsof Confuciusornis and Archaeopteryx suggest flight and at this stage it would be a brave person to say they couldn't fly" he says.

"However their feathers must have been very different to modern birds and they were poor fliers. I believe the feathers were originally for insulation or display purposes then they found that by elongating them they had a parachuting surface, then a gliding surface.

"Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis are still at a very early stage in the evolution of flight."

Dr Nudds' and Dr Dykes' work builds on their previous paper, in the journal Evolution, which investigated how the movement of feathered dinosaur forelimbs evolved into flapping flight. Again they found the flight was a consequence of gradual changes in wing shape and movement -- a long, slow evolution.

Dr Nudds adds: "Our analysis also shows that Confuciusornis, which is younger by 25 million years, was worse at flying than Archaeopteryx. This raises the further question of lineage -- did the dinosaur-bird line branch off, giving rise to flying and flightless birds?"

He and Dr Dyke plan to analyse other fossilized feathers to find out when flapping flight evolved. However such specimens are rare.

"I don't mind," says Dr Nudds. "It makes it more exciting and all the more intriguing."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Manchester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. L. Nudds, G. J. Dyke. Narrow Primary Feather Rachises in Confuciusornis and Archaeopteryx Suggest Poor Flight Ability. Science, 2010; 328 (5980): 887 DOI: 10.1126/science.1188895

Cite This Page:

University of Manchester. "Prehistoric birds were poor flyers, research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100526100612.htm>.
University of Manchester. (2010, May 26). Prehistoric birds were poor flyers, research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100526100612.htm
University of Manchester. "Prehistoric birds were poor flyers, research shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100526100612.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Richard III Saga Ends With Burial And An Eye Roll

Richard III Saga Ends With Burial And An Eye Roll

Newsy (Mar. 26, 2015) Richard III was finally laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday, but not without some controversy over who should get credit for finding him. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Giant Triassic Salamander Acted More Like A Crocodile

Giant Triassic Salamander Acted More Like A Crocodile

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) An ancient crocodile-like salamander more than 10 times the average size of its modern-day counterparts has been discovered in Portugal. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Plague-Era Skeletons Bring History Back to Life in London

Plague-Era Skeletons Bring History Back to Life in London

AFP (Mar. 24, 2015) London office workers are coming face-to-face with the hidden history beneath their feet as 3,000 skeletons dating back to the 16th century are dug up to make way for a new railway line. Duration: 01:11 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Add Woolly Mammoth DNA To Elephant Cells

Scientists Add Woolly Mammoth DNA To Elephant Cells

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) A group of Harvard researchers have been working on this project for a while, but it&apos;s not without critics. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins