Home / Funny / Viral / The Almost 100-Million-Year-Old Baby Bird Feather Study Reveals New Answers On Dinosaur Extinction


Birds may not seem like fascinating windows into the past, but to paleontologists, our feathered friends are living relics. Birds have a direct continuum going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Many species survived, but others, such as Tyrannosaurus, went extinct in catastrophes. But why the birds were able to survive is still open for research. New research suggests that  moulting patterns in certain prehistoric species controlled their survival and may have shaped  modern bird biology. Birds shed their feathers in the process of replacing these precious keratin (which makes up the nails) appendages. This is the process by which chicks acquire adult feathers, much like human children lose their milk teeth. There are two types of moulting patterns in birds that should be considered. Altricial birds are born naked and are kept warm by the body temperature of their parents.

Immature birds are born with their own baby wings. They all moult regularly into adulthood, a  very energy-consuming process. Also, if a bird (such as an altricial chick) moults all its feathers at once, it can  make the bird vulnerable to temperature changes. It gradually loses its plumage during the moulting period, making it less protective than the species it replaces.

A recent study by Shandong Bi and Jingmai O'Connor examined chick feathers preserved in amber. The Field Museum in Chicago called these incredibly rare finds and "the first definitive fossil evidence of moulting in hatchlings." The bird was probably an early social enantiornithine bird. Interestingly, however, feathers tell a slightly different story. "This specimen shows a really strange combination of presocial and altruistic traits," says O'Connor. "All the feathers on the body  are basically at exactly the  same stage of development, which means they all  started growing at or near  the same time." An asteroid impact would have caused the planet's temperature to plummet and its resources to become scarce. So not only did these birds need more energy  to maintain their body temperature, they also didn't have the resources to meet that need. "

Research in another paper by O'Connor and Joseph Kiatt suggests a connection with modern birds. They tested over 600 modern bird skins in the Field Museum for active moulting. “We found dozens of actively moulting specimens  among the sequentially moulting birds, but very few among the simultaneously moulting birds,” explains Professor Kiatt. This suggests that ancient birds may not have moulted as frequently as their modern descendants. This difference in moulting may explain why some birds were as ready to moult as modern animals and survived the crisis that brought the dinosaurs to an end. "I don't think there's any  particular reason why crested birds, including modern birds, survived," O'Connor concluded. "I think it's a combination of qualities. But I think it's becoming increasingly clear that moulting may have been a major factor in the dinosaur's survival."

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