SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers in a new study may have figured out the method dinosaurs used to learn how to fly, The New York Times reports.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, suggested that winged dinosaurs with two legs might have learned how to flap their wings by running, according to CNN. This, they believe, might mean that dinosaurs flapped their wings to fly before they learned to fly by more traditional methods. Descendants of these dinosaurs would have perfected the option so that they could fly.
The researchers specifically looked at the Caudipteryx, a dinosaur that didn’t fly but had “proto-wings” that were about half the size of wings, The New York Times reported.
The dinosaur was about the size of a peacock. The name itself means “tail feather” since the end of the animal’s tail looked like a fan full of feathers.
Researchers wanted to know how running would affect the animal’s wings. The researchers conducted three tests for the study. For the first one, the group looked at fossil analyses to create a simulation model for the dinosaur and then simulated a running motion and calculated how the body responded, according to The New York Times.
For the second experiment, researchers built a robot of a life-size Caudipteryx skeleton and had it run on a treadmill.
And for the third one, the researchers “placed artificial wings on a young ostrich, a good modern stand-in for Caudipteryx, and saw the wings flap as it ran around. Further experiments with longer, larger wings showed that the running speed afforded a greater force of lift,” according to CNN.
The researchers found that running created a flapping motion for the dinosaur, as Gizmodo explains.
- "Our work shows that the motion of flapping feathered wings was developed passively and naturally as the dinosaur ran on the ground," said Jing-Shan Zhao, study author and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tsinghua University in China, in a statement. "Although this flapping motion could not lift the dinosaur into the air at that time, the motion of flapping wings may have developed earlier than gliding."
Of course, the researchers said that the aerodynamic forces from the flapping motion can’t be measured for sure, so it’s hard to say if this created the same flapping motions as flight.1 comment on this story
Dennis Voeten, a paleontologist at Palacký University in the Czech Republic, said more research is needed to determine development of flapping flight for dinosaurs, according to Gizmodo.
- “Although Caudipteryx is morphologically among the most primitive members of the dinosaur group characterised by broadly bird-like feathers, it lived in a period when dinosaur flight was already well-established,” he said. “Dinosaur flight may have evolved more than one time, but it is highly unlikely that Caudipteryx itself was an ancestor to any flying dinosaur.”