We see birds flying gracefully through the skies everyday, but rarely do we question how their organs of flight evolved. That’s right- we’re talking about feathers. How could the structure of a feather evolve, and even more importantly, what evolutionary purpose could it have initially served? Well, in this TEDEd talk given by Carl Zimmer, we learn that feathers can be found as far back as the dinosaurs. There’s even evidence to suggest that birds are simply the product of jurassic ancestry (such as the shared wishbone).
Among the fossil discoveries of feathered dinosaurs, scientists have found wire-like feathers and brush-like feathers. The findings suggest that lift evolved as feathers became more and more complex and voluminous. As the feathers generated more lift, the abilities of certain species to escape predators gave them an advantage that eventually led to short distance glides. Today, we see in our skies the remnants of that age; birds fly for long distances almost indefinitely.
If evolution is the story of life, this is a fascinating chapter.
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