Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dinosaurs Take Flight!

One of the most amazing abilities that dinosaurs developed was the ability to fly. Flying dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes. The largest flying animal ever was Quetzalcoatlus, from the late Cretaceous period in North America. It had a wingspan of about 36 feet (11 M), larger than a small airplane!
Dinosaur wings were each made from one very long finger that supported a thin, but very strong, flap of skin. This flap of skin was attached to the side of the dinosaur's body, and would lift the animal into the air. Most flying dinosaurs lived near river and lakes, where they hunted for insects, fish, and other small animals. Quite a few specimens have been found in central Germany, which was a salty marsh during the Mesozoic Era.

Archaeopteryx is recognized as the earliest known bird. It is one of the most important fossils because it gives evidence supporting the theory that birds evolved from dinosaur ancestors. The mixture of birdlike and reptilian features suggests that this animal was the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. One fossilized feather has been found, and several of the wing bones show impressions of feathers.
A surprising feature of Archaeopteryx is the presence of a wishbone, just as in modern birds. This is made from two collarbones joined together in the bird's chest, and is important because the strong muscles in the wings are attached to it.

The Dromaeosaurids were a fearsome group of predatory flying dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period. They had clawed hands which could grasp prey in their palms, and killing claws on their hind feet. Unlike Archaeopteryx, which flew poorly, the Dromaeosaurids had mental agility and superior balance, which allowed them to fly with precision.
One of the mysteries of the pterosaurs and dromaeosaurids is how they developed the ability to fly. One theory is that they lived in trees, and would jump from branch to branch, eventually managing to glide. Another idea states tat they lived on the ground and jumped into the air to catch prey. Flapping arms would give them the advantage of being able to jump farther and higher, eventually leading to flight.

Excavations currently taking place in India (where dinosaur fossils are very rare) suggest that flying dinosaurs may even have lived alongside primitive versions of our own modern birds.
In either case, some dinosaurs soon developed small feathers on their arms. No one really knows how many dinosaurs were scaled and how many were feathered. Recent discoveries in this area are redefining how scientists see the Mesozoic world.

There are lots of great books about dinosaurs available in the Hansisgreat store!


steve said...

What a great entry! Gawd, I love this blog! I'm going to need to delve into my tech manuals and brush up on how exactly to LINK to you (the links on my page were constructed by somebody else)! It's something like 'href' or some such nonsense, isn't it?

Jason said...

Curious about your thoughts on Microraptor, a four-winged "dinobird" discovered about five years ago (although I only heard about it this past week).