Originally I was going to make a longer post, but, I decided against it because I wanted to focus on one particular point. Basically, about a month ago, a blog post by Carlos Albuquerque was made arguing that not only Velociraptor could fly, but could soar like a Bearded Vulture. These are some pretty amazing claims, as so far all evidence has indicated that Velociraptor was pretty well grounded.
There are a few arguments made in the post, such as claiming that since they nested like megapodes (citation needed), they could’ve flown like them, that Velociraptor probably had musculature different from birds, and therefore would have been able to fly (once again, citation needed), and that because ornithomimosaurs may have flown (?????), it wouldn’t be impossible that larger dromaeosaurs also evolved flight. Each one of these claims is highly speculative at best, and plain wrong at worst, but these aren’t what I will be talking about today.
Today’s subject is on the wingspan:weight ratio in respect to a bird’s flight capabilities. In the blog post,
Albuquerque does “tackle” the issue of size, and most of that section of the blog is talking about how big a mesozoic bird or other flying dinosaur could get in theory, and eventually coming to a point where he says that many dromaeosaurids are not too heavy to fly, as there were, and still are, flighted birds heavier than some mid sized dromaeosaurids. This argument isn’t really one that needed to be made, because nobody, to my knowledge, has been arguing that dinosaurs bigger than Velociraptor couldn’t fly. He then states that when taking into account the wingspan to weight ratio, Velociraptor sized dromaeosaurids could fly because they had quill knobs, and does not elaborate, or even show any data.
Eventually we get to the main point of the post, his arguments for why Velociraptor specifically could fly. He starts by pointing out that there are flighted birds bigger than Velociraptor, even at the maximum weight estimate of 19 kg, specifically pointing out Pelagornis being twice that weight. What he misses is that Pelagornis (sandersi) also had a wingspan of 6 to 7.5 meters, well over the entire body length of Velociraptor. He then goes on to talk about the wings of Velociraptor, admitting that they do look short for a flying animal, but claiming that because of quill knobs, the wings should end up being large enough to carry it. His conclusion almost ends at “The overall picture are large but low-aspect ratio wings, typical for flying animals in inland settings.” To me, this gives the impression of something like a chicken or pheasant at best, but he then goes on to say this: “My strongest bet overall is a type of inland soaring flight, which would have been facilitated by the dune desert environment it occurred on. With relatively little cover or perching sites, Velociraptor might have been more adapted to search long distances in search of food much like modern vultures, which explains why its jaws are similarly more gracile as opposed to the robust jaws of other large dromaeosaurids; this is also seen in other scavenging flyers like vultures and istiodactylids, an indication that they do not usually have to deal with struggling prey.“ I have absolutely no idea where he got this idea, as vultures have a high wing aspect ratio, where our best bet for Velociraptor, and even stated in the previous paragraph, is that it had a low wing aspect ratio.
In this graph I made, taking measurements from Wikipedia (sorry), has the wingspan on the y axis, and weight on the x axis. Even though this graph is crude in many ways (not taking into account the wing aspect ratio, just wingspan, as well ignoring musculature), it’s clear that within bird groups there are trends. Vultures and bustards are both flight capable, and so their trend lines are close, while the less flight capable galliformes trend line is much lower. clearly within the less capable trend line is Velociraptor (min. weight estimate left, max. middle, wingspan of both scaled from
Zhenyuanlong) and Zhenyuanlong (right). And once again, this isn’t taking into account the musculature, so it seems likely that Velociraptor was less capable of flight than a Turkey, and certainly not soaring like a Vulture.
So no, the Bearded Vulture Velociraptor pictures are not warranted, and yes, you can be wrong, a lot.
Yes, I am Irish and Indian, which would be the coolest blend in the world if my parents were around to teach me how to be Irish and Indian. But they’re not here and haven’t been for years, so I’m not really Irish or Indian. I am a blank sky, a human solar eclipse.
Soul, let’s go. Don’t be discouraged
by the cold. And don’t look at the lake,
if it makes you think of a livid,
teeming wound. Yes, the clouds
weigh over the pines and darken them.
But we will go where the tangle
of branches is so dense, that the rain
doesn’t reach to dampen the ground: soft,
drumming on the dark vault,
it will accompany our journey.
And we will tread on the soft layer
of fallen needles and the curly patches
of lichen, and bilberry; we’ll stumble
over the roots, desperate limbs
groping the earth; we’ll lean tight
against the trunks for support;
and we’ll escape. With the full force
of the flesh and the heart, we’ll flee:
far from this poisonous world
that attracts and repels me. And you will be,
in the pine forest, at night, the leaning shadow
that watches over: and I for you only,
on the sweet way aimlessly,
a soul clinging to love.
Antonia Pozzi, “Flight,” trans. from Italian by Amy Newman, River Styx (no. 100, May 2018)
Person A: ugh, finally on my lunch break. I’m gonna sit alone at this table and ignore everyone.
*a wild Person B appears*
Person B: why hello there, is this seat taken? Everywhere else is full, I can’t find anywhere else to sit! You don’t mind if I have a seat do you? *sits down without waiting for an answer* wow your lunch sure looks delicious! My name is Person B, what’s yours?