New Evidence of the History of Bird Flight Found from Studying Dinosaurs


Scientists are studying the running gait of an early winged dinosaur to gain some insights into the history of bird flight. The Caudipteryx was a peacock-sized dinosaur that had wings, ran very fast, but could not fly. A robotic model is being utilized to study this reptile and its relation to bird flight.

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A Precursor to Bird Flight

Researchers have learned a lot about the Caudipteryx’s fast gait. This dinosaur is estimated to have lived about 125 million years ago. As it ran, its wings flapped from all the jostling. This forelimb action is believed to be a possible precursor to active flapping that occurs when birds fly. Researchers are now using a robotic dinosaur model as well as young ostriches fitted with artificial wings to analyze the concept further.

The early winged dinosaur had a running speed in the range of 2.5-5.8 meters per second. Its rapid movements caused vibrations to move through its body, and this resulted in the vigorous flapping of its wings. The findings of the new study are reported in a May 2019 edition of PLOS Computational Biology. From the results found so far, it could be possible that running preceded flying for some dinosaurs. This new evidence has a bearing on the debate over whether the first fliers used their wings to either flap or glide.

A number of other previous studies have examined the running and flight of winged dinosaurs and prehistoric birds. In one study, researchers concluded that birds such as the Archaeopteryx, which lived 150 million years ago, could not maintain a rigorous flap because of the delicate nature of their feathers and wings. It is believed that such birds glided instead. Another study looking at the Microraptor, which was a winged dinosaur existing about 120 million years ago, concluded that such reptiles launched themselves into the air with flapping.

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