Why did dinosaurs have feathers? They couldn’t fly it anyway

The evolutionary development of feathers in dinosaurs is a big question mark. Korean researchers are making a new attempt at explanation.

Joost van Egmond

They must have looked a bit stupid by our standards. The first feathers were certainly not comparable to the majestic feathers that hold the eagle aloft today. Early dinosaurs, the dinosaurs that developed such feathers, had some on the forelimbs and some on the tail. Flying with her was out of the question.

So why were they? Or rather, what made these benaraptors so successful that they grew sturdier feathers, so their descendants could eventually fly with them as a sort of added bonus? This question keeps paleontologists very busy.

The most common explanations are the insulating effect of the understory and sexual selection. Jinsuk Park and colleagues from Seoul University propose a hypothesis: These early feathers may have been useful for hunting insects. Hunters flapping their feathers can startle their hidden prey into running away, creating an easier target.

This is not a completely new idea, many birds still use this strategy today. But developing this into a hypothesis about the evolution of feathers is at least “very creative,” says Anne Schulp, a professor of paleontology at Utrecht and a researcher at Naturalis. “They’re adding a new scenario, and that’s fun.”

With the roboraptor towards the grasshopper

Park and colleagues described the Article in the magazine Scientific reports A number of experiments support their hypothesis. They trained on grasshoppers, an animal species that has been around for about 250 million years and thus would have been included in the list of these benaraptors. The animals were shown computer animation containing these flapping effects, and they were truly amazed. The researchers also went further and temporarily built one com. caudipteryx Yes, Benaptor is known. The researchers explained that this confuses the grasshopper with its waving On video Pinned.

Screenshot from the video “Escape Behaviors in Prey and the Evolution of Wing Feathers in Dinosaurs”

In any case, such experiments would attract Schulp’s sympathy. “Great,” he says. Whether it actually happened that way is another matter. “There are many aspects of this hypothesis that are very difficult to test, but that does not make it any less interesting,” Schulp says. “The range of possible explanations has become richer again.”

Anyway, what speaks to this idea is that it fits well with the development of the feather shaft, that tough wedge of keratin that runs through the center. At some point, those first soft feathers probably grew into feathers that you could flap and spin, and that was before the first feathered kite appeared. This hypothesis suggests a potential benefit of this function.

null Image Screenshot of the video

Screenshot from the video “Escape Behaviors in Prey and the Evolution of Wing Feathers in Dinosaurs”

Maybe everyone is right

Schulp believes that the debate about the evolutionary development of feathers will not be easily settled without a time machine. This may also be a false dichotomy. He emphasizes that it is not clear that we have to choose between competing hypotheses. “It could have been a streak.”

One possible scenario is that everyone is right: perhaps down feathers were useful for keeping animals warm. Then, it turned out that hunters with more developed feathers were able to hunt more effectively, according to the method described by Park and his colleagues. This made specimens with larger flight feathers more attractive when choosing a mate, and above all, these specimens were also shown to be able to jump farther. In millions of years, you could end up with feathered kites, like today’s birds.

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