Scientists used a dinosaur wind tunnel to shed light on the age-old mystery of whether winged creatures were the precursor to modern birds.
So, researchers with the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom used a Microraptor to test the theory.
The small five-winged dinosaur is of special interest to scientists, because of its unique design. The Microraptor’s fossils were first discovered in northeastern China 15 years ago.
The dino is believed to have lived in the early Cretaceous period, about 120 to 125 million years ago, reports CNet. To perform their wind tunnel experiment, scientists used the fossils to create an accurate model of the Microraptor, complete with real feathers on its arms, legs, and tail.
Popular Science notes that the wind tunnel tests revealed the Microraptor probably didn’t fly like modern birds do. Instead, the creature likely flew down from the trees and glided across “medium distances.”
The dinosaur could have created a good amount of lift with its wings, but the exact positioning of the five appendages didn’t make a big difference. Small changes in the shape and orientation of the dinosaur’s wings and legs didn’t make a big difference in tine wind tunnel’s results.
Gareth Dyke, a vertebrae paleontology expert at the University of Southampton, explained, “Significant to the evolution of flight, we show that Microraptor did not require a sophisticated ‘modern’ wing morphology to undertake effective glides, as the high-lift coefficient regime is less dependent upon detail of wing morphology.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on Wednesday, and concludes, “This is congruent with the fossil record and also with the hypothesis that symmetric ‘flight’ feathers first evolved in dinosaurs for non=aerodynamic functions, later being adapted to form lifting surfaces.”
The dinosaur wind tunnel research appears to confirm the hypothesis that Microraptor was a true precursor to modern birds.
[image via Wikimedia Commons]