Posted by: soniahs | June 21, 2011

Birds are dinosaurs

Birds: so many reasons they are cool, but here’s another one- they’re the only modern surviving dinosaurs. Yes, really.

Crocodiles, turtles, Komodo dragons- all related to dinosaurs, but not descended from dinosaurs. In fact, recent paleontological work has uncovered many new dinosaur species that share features we think of as “birdy.” Things like feathers, specialized bird-like lungs, and bipedalism. These features are found in a group of dinosaurs called maniraptorans, which are in turn cousins to the dinosaur group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.

Artist's interpretation of a Scansoriopteryx hatchling, a "birdlike" maniraptoran dinosaur. (Image: Matt Martyniuk, azhdarcho.com)

This post by Greg Laden explains the links:

Most of the time when we think of birds, we think of the things that make them birds, and not the things that make them dinosaurs. But that is because we often have the relationship between dinosaurs and birds reversed in our little primate minds; Much of what is bird-like is not exclusive to birds, but rather, to a larger group of dinosaurs. Birds have taken these particular traits in novel directions, but these traits existed independently of all the birdiness we usually attribute to our feathered, flying, bipedal friends, long ago, before the Great Extinction.

Check out his entire post- it’s worth reading.

And here’s a mediocre photo of an excellent museum display, from the American Museum of Natural History’s dinosaur fossil halls. It’s a 3-D cladogram (somewhat like a family tree) of dinosaur relationships. If you look at the upper right corner of the photo, you should be able to just make out the words “ALIVE TODAY.” This is where modern birds fit into the picture: our living dinosaurs.

Dinosaur cladogram from the AMNH. (Image: S. Stephens)

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