Scientists Create Birds-Only Racetrack Course To Learn More About Dinosaurs

Susan Montoya BryanAP Images

Although dinosaurs have been extinct for approximately 65 million years, come the end of the Cretaceous Period, scientists are on a constant mission to find out as much about the fascinating creatures as they can. Last week, Australian analysts set up a somewhat unorthodox research method; after gathering up several different species of birds, the only living descendant of two-legged dinosaurs also known as theropods, they set up a racetrack for the animals to run around on in order to look for any similarities between the two.

As reported by The Verge, a total of a dozen different types of birds were used in the experiment: emus, turkeys, quails, and ostriches to name a few. After they had begun taking off on foot around the track, scientists took note of which birds had more difficulty running the course than others, and how this related to their height and weight. In doing so, they were able to get a decent idea of how dinosaurs themselves fared when it came to mobility.

Queensland Museum scientist Peter Bishop gave a statement in which he admitted that while fossils and footprints of dinosaurs are helpful when it comes to providing a “static record of an animal or its movement,” they do not give researchers any insight as to the specific details of these reptiles’ travels. Therefore, he goes on to say, the mobility of currently living creatures must be studied at length.

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The birds were videotaped using a two-camera set-up, not unlike those used in cinemas. Certain 3D measurements were recorded, such as the height at which the hips of a bird reached as they made their way down the racetrack, with the force of their steps being measured with the use of special platform fitted on the course.

Models were then developed which used the speed and size of the bird in order to predict such key movement aspects as the length of strides. Body size, researchers discovered, has a major influence on the ability of birds to move quickly. In documenting this information, scientists believe that they now have a better idea of how certain dinosaurs were able to move around the Earth, track their prey and protect themselves. Smaller birds, they revealed, engage in something more of a crouched and scurrying movement than those of a bigger size, who stretched out their legs to create more of an upright position.

Bishop speculated that the movement of a Tyrannosaurus rex is most likely similar to that of “a big turkey or ostrich,” but with a significantly increased amount of effort. He compared the difficulty of the T-rex‘s struggle to be mobile with that of an elephant, in that the creature is attempting to shuffle thousands of pounds on two legs, a feat that seems almost scientifically impossible.