Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dinosaurs and the Evolution of Flight

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dinosaurs and the Evolution of Flight

Article excerpt

A new study looking at the structure of feathers in birdlike dinosaurs has shed light on one of nature's most remarkable inventions: flight. Academics at the Universities of Bristol, Yale, and Calgary have shown that prehistoric birds had a much more primitive version of the wings we see today, with rigid layers of feathers acting as simple airfoils for gliding.

Close examination of the earliest theropod dinosaurs suggests that feathers first developed for insulation, arranged in multiple layers to preserve heat, before their shape evolved for display and camouflage.

As evolution changed the configuration of the feathers, their important role in the aerodynamics and mechanics of flight became more apparent.

Natural selection over millions of years modified dinosaurs' forelimbs into highly efficient, feathered wings that could rapidly change their span, shape, and area--a key innovation.

This basic wing configuration has remained more or less the same for the past 130 million years, with bird wings having a layer of long, asymmetrical flight feathers with short, covert feathers on top. Birds can separate and rotate these flight feathers to gain height, change direction, and even hover. …

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