Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sex enabled the first birds to fly

Scientists have discovered a dinosaur with a collection of glossy feathers which suggests it was sex, not aerodynamics which drove them to fly.

The Microraptor

The genus splits into 4 distinct species called 'winged dromaeosaurid dinosaurs'.

This specific bird is famous for it's glossy colours similar to that of when you look at the rainbow effect of an oil leak.

Sexual signalling

For centuries scientists have been debating the origin of flight, and was previously thought to be from small feathers having aerodynamic properties which eventually grew into wings.

But lately it's clear that birds have more uses for feathers than flying.

Most birds use their colours or other features to compete with other usually male birds for mates.

Down to business

Analysis of the bones from a Microraptor show that it was unable to flap it's wings to fly. It has the feathers to fly, but the bone structure means it can only hover, not flap.

This suggests that the feathers were put only developed for on show purposes and actually have no part in flight (yet!)

The tail tuft is also for display

Normally tails are used during flight for aerodynamic purposes, but analysis of the Microraptor's tail showed that the feathers were too spread out to have any aerodynamic capability.

This suggests that they also were for ornamental use which scientists reckon played a crucial part in the mating game.

Through more evidence it's discovered that many land animals have tail tufts which were also used for only display purposes, this means that the tail had no factor into the development of flight.

Sex before flight

This paints a new picture for the origin of feathers, the origin now being mating components and sexual signalling.

This all points the finger at when the bird did develop flying capabilities.

We can now be sure that flight was not the primary purpose of feathers, sexual signalling was. But further down the evolution line it opened a capability which allowed them to live

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