BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Scientists can now understand how small feathered dinosaurs were able to fly. The main tool that helps them in this attempt are high-powered lasers that reveal the soft tissue found in the bones of the fossils.
On Tuesday, they declared they used this revolutionary technique to analyze the bones of Anchiornis, a feathered dinosaur that resembled a bird and was about the size of a chicken. This dinosaur lived in China 160 million years ago.
The laser testing revealed that Anchiornis had legs shaped like drumsticks, a long and slender tail, and its arms resembled the wings of some modern birds which glide or soar. These features spiced quite an intense debate whether this creature should be considered a bird, and not a dinosaur.
The characteristics of the skeleton and soft tissue of Anchiornis are incredibly similar to those found in birds. Also, this feathered dinosaur lived close to the period when birds evolutionarily diverted from their dinosaur ancestors.
Archaeopteryx is considered the earliest bird that ever existed. It lived around 150 million years ago in Germany. The experts that performed the study on Anchiornis declared that it would rather qualify as a bird than a dinosaur.
Michael Pittman, paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong, one of the authors of the study, said that, if people had been given the chance to see Anchiornis alive, they would have classified it as a weird-looking bird and not as a dinosaur.
The technique the scientists used is called laser stimulated fluorescence (LSF). This technique directs lasers of high power towards fossils placed in a dark room. These lasers make soft tissues like skin and muscles glow in the dark.
Thus, they succeeded in creating the first detailed outline of the body of a feathered dinosaur. This made the scientists better understand the origin of birds. They noticed how Anchiornis had a shallow area of soft tissue placed in front of the elbow (the propatagium).
This is the leading edge of bird wings and is vital in flying. However, the scientists are still not sure if Anchiornis was able to fly. Some of them suggest that it could have been able to glide, while others think its feathers were not suitable for flight. Anyway, it possessed some aerodynamic capabilities.
Anchiornis was a feathered dinosaur that resembled modern birds in terms of plumage and foot scale. However, it lacked the breastbone and short tails typical of modern birds. It had sharp teeth, like the earliest birds, which it might have used to eat small animals.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons