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Flimsy Feathers

July 12, 2010

Could birdlike dinosaurs really fly?


Flimsy feathered fossils…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Paleontologists think winged creatures called Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis represent the earliest examples of birds in the fossil record, emerging around 125 to 150 million years ago. But whether or not the dinosaur-like animals could actually fly is unclear. Evolutionary biologists Gareth Dyke of University College Dublin and Robert Nudds of the University of Manchester in England noticed that the feather shafts of these fossils are very thin. Nudds says if their feathers were hollow like those of modern birds, they would have been too weak for flapping flight.

ROBERT NUDDS (University of Manchester):
We found that the feathers of Confuciusornis were 100 times weaker than we would expect for an existing bird with the same size wingspan and Archaeopteryx was 10 times weaker.

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.