Chicken or egg? There was no moment when a dinosaur became a bird.
September 29, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

A team of researchers, including University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte and Swarthmore College Associate Professor of Statistics Steve C. Wang, cataloging 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs and analyzing the rate at which these characters change, and they found that "there was no grand jump between nonbirds and birds in morphospace." In other words, birds didn't suddenly come into existence, but evolved, bit by bit, or characteristic by characteristic. But when birds were finally a thing, they went crazy. "Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate."
posted by filthy light thief (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
There doesn't have to be a jump. Look at a cassowary and tell me dinosaurs don't still roam the earth.
posted by gingerest at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


My favorite bird is probably the Cassowary. If cassowaries were discovered today, instead of in 17whatever, every newspaper in the world would have the headline: LIVING DINOSAURS DISCOVERED IN REMOTE JUNGLE. They have giant raptor claws and rumble like monsters. They have that dinosaur head crest. LOOK AT THEM
posted by theodolite at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


as they say, Great Minds Think About Cassowaries
posted by theodolite at 2:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


My goodness. Cassowaries are NEKKID TURKEYS! I kid.

I had never heard of them before, but those are some awesome dinosaur birds you've got going, Aussies. I am guessing you don't have any giant cats down there.
posted by misha at 3:00 PM on September 29, 2014


I grew up in the 80s. My understanding of what dinosaurs were like is, today, very different than what it was when I was a child.

I find that to be pretty fucking radical.
posted by truex at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


Dinosaurs are cool.
posted by truex at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Great video of a Cassowary encounter on a beach.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Cassowaries are a vital part of any quality Aviary of Doom.
posted by ckape at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's wrong, however, to think of cassowaries as some sort of "living fossil" retaining clearly theropod characteristics. Their flightlessness and large size almost certainly evolved from a smaller, flying precursor that looked much more like a typical modern bird.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Though, if you did have giant cats, that would be awesome. Seems like if they were going to show up anywhere, Australia would be at the top of the list, too.

Speaking as an ignorant American, I tend to think of Australians as likeable people that are basically up for any challenge (including imbiibing astonishing amounts of alcohol with little to no ill effects). And in my limited experience with Australians, so far that hastily formed stereotype has held up.

It's probably a good thing you are all so easy-going and resilient, too, because Australia (where I have never been), seems like a wondrous place full of unique wildlife perfectly designed for killing you all.
posted by misha at 3:13 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


On the Cassowarie tangent: An abundance of food and lack of predators following the extinction of dinosaurs saw previously flighted birds significantly increase in size and become flightless, not as a single evolutionary path, but parallel, independent paths for the the ancestors of the African ostrich, Australasian emu plus cassowary, South American rheas and New Zealand moa.

Also from Science Daily: The evolution of flight took longer than previously thought with the ancestors of modern birds "rubbish" at flying, if they flew at all, according to scientists.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Having had many "encounters" over the years with various members of Subfamily Anserinae, including one a couple weeks ago,* I can attest that dinosaurs do indeed still roam the Earth. Or at least certain local parks.

* After I returned his ill-mannered "give me your lunch, human!" hiss with my own teeth-bared primate version, leaving him more than a little confused, he eventually waddled off. My friend did retreat to the top of the picnic table until the beast was gone, however.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Anyone who has ever met a chicken knows that they are dinosaurs. If anything, knowing chickens makes Jurassic Park much more frightening.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Melbourne zoo has a cassowary and it is terrifying. Most visitors miss it completely because for a seven-foot-tall bird it is amazingly good at hiding in the aviary underbrush.
posted by gingerest at 3:33 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was bitten by a swan when I was a kid - I'm glad the trauma didn't continue into my adulthood.

Although once a few years ago we were walking around a bird sanctuary where they don't just allow but encourage visitors to feed the wild birds, and I was like, okay, I'm cool with this chickadee perched on my hand - but when four or five sand hill cranes blocked my way on the path, not so much.
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on September 29, 2014


Isn't this just an example of punctuated equilibrium?
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


If this is the bird trauma thread I would just like to mention the fleabitten grungey ostriches who menaced me at the Kunming zoo from within their enclosures, and the murder gang of free-roaming aggro peacocks from whom my cousin and I rescued a terrified local girl after her (presumably now ex) boyfriend had fled the feathery menace and left her to die.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:48 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


nb i bravely and selflessly threw my bubble o bill popsicle at the avian gang to distract them even though it had been the very last one in the ice cream cart and the zoo was about to close and i would never again since that day taste the repulsively sweet gumball nose of that fallen ice cream hero
posted by poffin boffin at 3:50 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Does it count as bird trauma to mention that geese drool? and have teeth?

Canada geese drool a lot.
posted by Lexica at 4:08 PM on September 29, 2014


As a person who is the somewhat willing hostage of a small, willful parrot, I can say with all confidence that she exhibits an extraordinary, alien intelligence. Her dinosaur nature is ever-present; at times she's a regular beaked dragon.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Canada geese drool a lot.
posted by Lexica at 6:08 PM


And shit. They fucking shit EVERYWHERE.
posted by symbioid at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh, hey. Geese. I get to tell my goose story! Back in the 90s, I worked for a while at a museum that was located next to the city zoo. One of the perks of employment there was free zoo admission, so I would occasionally wander through on my lunch hour just for the hell of it. One day, I did this around the middle of spring, when the Canadian geese that hung out in town every winter were nesting all through the zoo and the surrounding park.

As I was walking along, I suddenly heard an odd wet slap slap slap noise near my feet. Looking down, I discovered the noise was coming from one of the tiny recently-hatched goslings. It was running around and around in circles in a puddle near one of the sidewalks, flapping its little winglets and making tiny splashes with its webbed feet, and obviously having an absolute blast in the process. (They can't really smile, per se, but this one sure looked like it was grinning with its beak.)

That little moment of pure joy always goes on my list of happiest memories.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:06 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Cassowaries



I have a special fondness of all the ratites.
posted by aubilenon at 6:26 PM on September 29, 2014


There is a cockatiel who lives in a large birdcage next to the register at my work, and I am very sure that he thinks of himself as a temporarily embarrassed velociraptor.
posted by nonasuch at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


According to my ex-supervisor who was safety advisor at a zoo, cassowaries are one of, if not the, most dangerous animal to zookeepers. Although possibly not the public! They love the public, if the video above is anything to go by.

Here in Calgary we have lots of magpies, which are my favourite dinosaurs. They are very active, very inquisitive, and they take big two-legged jumps to get where they're going. With those long tail feathers it's easy to imagine them as little Deinonychus-type raptors. I like to watch the parents yelling at the young ones to come check out this food source, or to see a couple of them systematically going over a piece of lawn catching insects. They seem friendly enough, but I wouldn't want to be a small mammal that had their attention.
posted by sneebler at 8:14 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm always surprised that magpies aren't more widespread, given how adaptable and intelligent (and opportunistic) they seem. I wonder why they haven't spread like, say, gulls have spread.
posted by clawsoon at 9:16 PM on September 29, 2014


Never mind... it looks like the western Canadian magpie (the black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia) has close relatives all over the world. Just not here in Ontario, for whatever reason.
posted by clawsoon at 9:21 PM on September 29, 2014


It's wrong, however, to think of cassowaries as some sort of "living fossil" retaining clearly theropod characteristics. Their flightlessness and large size almost certainly evolved from a smaller, flying precursor that looked much more like a typical modern bird.

Are we sure about this? Could cassowaries, ostriches, etc. actually represent a second line of bird evolution? To me it seems almost as likely that they descended directly from non-avian feathered dinosaurs and never learned to fly, with their forelimbs simply atrophying without developing into actual wings.

I first thought of this after seeing these images of terror birds - see the little T-rex style arms?
posted by e-man at 9:56 PM on September 29, 2014


So how soon can we backbreed or genegineer terror birds? Or maybe just make dire cassowaries? I'm sure they would be friendly and wouldn't mind my ridng them at all.
posted by happyroach at 10:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am a bird.
posted by goatdog at 10:38 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Re the cassowary on the beach, I'd 'd sooner be aproached by a wolf or wild cat! Given how freakin' unpredictable and nasty a rooster can be, you can keep your wild bird encounter.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:40 PM on September 29, 2014


Are we sure about this? Could cassowaries, ostriches, etc. actually represent a second line of bird evolution? To me it seems almost as likely that they descended directly from non-avian feathered dinosaurs and never learned to fly, with their forelimbs simply atrophying without developing into actual wings.

I first thought of this after seeing these images of terror birds - see the little T-rex style arms?


Well, yeah. Cassowaries, ostriches, etc. are generally considered to be a separate evolutionary branch (the Palaeognathae) from other modern birds (the Neognathae). However, they evolved their flightlessness separately; an example of convergent evolution. Their ancestors were smaller and could fly.

As for the terror birds, they're more closely related to the modern neognaths than they are to cassowaries. They're cousins of either cranes or falcons.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:50 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]




Let's think of eggs.
They have no legs.
Chickens come from eggs,
But they have legs.
The plot thickens:
Eggs come from chickens
But have no legs under 'em.
What a conundurum!

- Ogden Nash

Let us think of dinosaurs.
They have no ifs, or ands, or bars.
Chickens come from eggs,
Which surely must be the dregs
of all the the places chicks could come.
But noble they are really from!
Brave beast the Brontosaurus,
Gave us our tasty dinner for us.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:41 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well yes, and if we're going to de-extinctionate some animal, my vote would be for some kind of giant bird. Think about it - they're adaptable, and while mammoths are nice, where would you keep them? I'd prefer one of the bitier ones (don't know if there's any Terror Bird DNA around...), but a Moa would be pretty cool too.
posted by sneebler at 5:07 AM on September 30, 2014


So, if I understand this correctly, these radical, paradigm-changing scientists propose that 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs did not happen all at once?

I suppose next they're going to tell us that some sort of lengthy "time period" separates Homo sapiens from its tarsir-like, protomonkey ancestors.

What rubbish. Clearly, they've been imbibing the printer fluid again.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


In my opinion, putting birds and dinosaurs together is one of the greatest triumphs of vertebrate evolution, a conjecture from Darwin's time that's been supported by an avalanche of fossil discoveries over the last 50 years.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


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