New evidence on how birds took to the air
Key modifications for flight happened as early as 120 million years ago, a fossil discovery suggests.
New fossil evidence has pushed back a key step in the evolution of bird flight by millions of years.
Skeletal changes that helped birds take to the air happened 120 million years ago, during the hey day of dinosaurs, according to a specimen from China.
Features such as fused bones were thought to be present only in relatively advanced birds, living just before the dinosaurs went extinct. A strong, rigid skeleton is part of the blueprint of modern birds.
The bird, Pterygornis dapingfangensi, lived in north-eastern China during the Early Cretaceous. It is only the second of its kind to be discovered and is exquisitely preserved.
The find “pushed back the date for these birds’ features by over 40 million years,” said co-researcher, Min Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
One of the requirements of all flying machines is a structure that is both strong and lightweight. To achieve this in birds meant changes to the basic body plan of most back-boned animals.
During the course of bird evolution, some of the vertebrae and bones of the pelvic girdle fused together, as did some finger and leg bones. And many tail, finger, and leg bones were lost…