back to article Boffins: Jurassic avians were more like Angry birds than modern ones

Bone-bothering boffins say that early birds were actually fairly rubbish at flying, so much so that they couldn't get airborne unless they jumped off from a high point or otherwise gained a helping push. Artist's impression of the Archaeoteryx lithographica in flight The Archaeopteryx in glide. Credit: Carl Buell “We …

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Anonymous Coward

Are these the same people that used to think that Apatosaurs couldn't support their own weight if they left the river and Tyrannosaurs couldn't see movement?

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Anonymous Coward

So, your view is that once some scientists involved in a given discipline make a mistake, everyone working in that field for the rest of history loses credibility?

You -do- realize that science -works- by making mistakes, right? And that without the people who theorized incorrectly about Apatosaurs and Tyrannosaurs, nobody would ever have found ways to show those theories to be faulty?

I get extremely frustrated when people think that a scientific theory being disproved is a failure on science's part.

Science is not engineering; the goal is not to map out a whole project and implement it all with as few failures as possible. The goal is to come up with an idea about how the world works, and find out if your idea is right or if it's wrong. Either way you learn something new and gain a more complete understanding of the world around you.

Experiments may succeed or fail to prove a hypothesis, but if executed properly, one way or another, they all succeed as *science*.

Sometimes I think they should toss out all of primary school 'science' education and just pound that into kids' brains for four years straight. We seem to have confused teaching *scientific results* with teaching *science* - and have done it so skillfully that even educated and intelligent people can't tell the difference.

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I agree with you to a very large extent; this is indeed the way that science _ought_ to work. The trouble is that, as is evident in the entirely predictable responses here show, science is not actually taught in this dispassionate way at all, either in schools and universities or (even worse) the media, especially the popular science media.

Rather, particular theories (and Darwinism is probably the most extreme case) are taught and held as sacrosanct religious views, where their believers will simply not countenance any research finding which provides direct contradition to the theory. (They will rather attack the researcher's character or work, or plead yet another special case.) Of course, they will be foaming at the mouth in denial at the very suggestion, but it's true nonetheless. Any researcher who states that their research does not led support to these theories is ostracised and dismissed as a dangerous crank, and their funding dries up. Little wonder so few are willing to do so publically...

To reassure the true believers (often including themselves, no doubt) and increase their chances of obtaining further funding a lot of researchers in the field of biology write their papers describing some fantastic feature or system observed in nature and then tack a kind of boilerplate text onto the end attributing it all to the wonders of Evolution - lest the impartial reader get the idea that such amazing design might have a designer.

Science as an ideal may be impartial but it is in reality practiced by human beings who all have their own worldview and beliefs, no matter which those may be.

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Religion

In all fairness, most of the crticism of Darwin's theory of evolution today originates from people who believe there is a bearded guy in the sky who constructed the whole universe with everbody in it 6000 years ago (based on absolutely no observations or proof whatsoever -- just blind faith).

It is sometimes problematic to separate valid criticism from the "bible says differen'" crowd. The noise to signal ratio is not good. People eventually tire of debating with lunatics.

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What about the little (proto)pigs?

What did they build their houses from? Bricks, sticks, or straw? or I'm I just getting things confused?

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Silver badge

Re: What about the little (proto)pigs?

They evolved legs much later

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Facepalm

Not exactly a shock

Flight would have evolved gradually. Its not like a dinosaur one day gave birth to a pigeon! Probably flight evolved from tree or cliff climbing animals that used it to escape from predators by jumping off.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

Actually, this is about as likely as you spying a pig in self-sustaining near supersonic flight passing your window.

You could arrange for billions of people to jump off cliffs for billions of years, none of them would ever evolve the ability to fly. Despite the wishful thinking of so many otherwise intelligent people, time does NOT make the impossible happen, no matter how much of it you have.

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FAIL

Re: Not exactly a shock

"You could arrange for billions of people to jump off cliffs for billions of years, none of them would ever evolve the ability to fly. Despite the wishful thinking of so many otherwise intelligent people, time does NOT make the impossible happen, no matter how much of it you have."

Congratulations on proving you don't have a sodding clue how evolution works.

Hint: An animal with slightly more insulation feathers than normal one day jumps off a tree to escape a predator and finds that the extra feathers help cushion its fall by allowing it to sort of glide. Animal has lots of offspring because it survived.

And if you think that sort of thing wouldn't ever happen I suggest you get your head out of your religious fairytale text of choice and go and educate yourself:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draco_(genus)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_frog

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_squirrel

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

"Hint: An animal with slightly more insulation feathers than normal one day jumps off a tree to escape a predator and finds that the extra feathers help cushion its fall by allowing it to sort of glide. Animal has lots of offspring because it survived."

Poo.

This ability would need to spontaneously appear in a large number of the species for it to thrive through procreation.

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Bronze badge

Re: Not exactly a shock

"This ability would need to spontaneously appear in a large number of the species for it to thrive through procreation."

In 1860 that argument might have some plausibility. After Mendel it's just silly.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

"This ability would need to spontaneously appear in a large number of the species for it to thrive through procreation."

Nope.. the trait only has to evolve once, and just needs to offer a vast improvement in surviveability to whichever age the critter in question starts procreating. Even a difference in survival of 5% would mean the survival trait would be dominant in the population within a couple of generations.

In this case the ability to jump from a serious height and even stay aloft/glide sufficiently far away from a predator would heavily select for lighter bone structure and characteristics that aid flight.

Pterosaurs (which are neither birds nor dinosaurs) had already gone this route (and quite efficiently at that) , and the proto-birds used the same mechanism. Nowadays you see the principle in action in the anmals quoted previously.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

"Actually, this is about as likely as you spying a pig in self-sustaining near supersonic flight passing your window.

You could arrange for billions of people to jump off cliffs for billions of years, none of them would ever evolve the ability to fly. Despite the wishful thinking of so many otherwise intelligent people, time does NOT make the impossible happen, no matter how much of it you have."

Woot!?! Have I just been moved back to 18th century?!

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Re: Not exactly a shock

Actually, what you're speaking about is natural selection, not evolution, and I have spent quite a number of decades educating myself on this subject (but thanks for your concern anyway.)

The real problem with mutations is that even coupled with natural selection they are not observed by real science to tend to produce increasingly more feature-rich organisms; they are overwhelmingly deletrious and even with the built-in mutation avoiding capabilities of DNA are observed to be accumulating at a fast and increasing rate.

Sadly you're so blinkered by your own fairy tales that you are willing to believe that things which are known to real experimental science to be either statistically vanishingly improbable or completely impossible have happened not just once, but many times, in a relatively short space of time. Don't let me burst your bubble though...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

"The real problem with mutations is that even coupled with natural selection they are not observed by real science to tend to produce increasingly more feature-rich organisms; they are overwhelmingly deletrious and even with the built-in mutation avoiding capabilities of DNA are observed to be accumulating at a fast and increasing rate."

Eugh, stop pretending you have any clue what you're talking about. Most mutations have neither a positive or negative effect on an organism. Mutations that seriously hinder the organism tend not to get passed on, whereas ones that give it an advantage do tend to get passed on. There are only a certain number of ways to achieve flight, just as there are only a certain number of shapes that are aquadynamic.. This is why we see unrelated flying creatures using similar mechanisms and unrelated sea creatures with similar shapes. The mutations that cause them may have the same chance of occurring as a mutation that gives you no mouth and half a brain but they have a much greater chance of being passed on through breeding because they are beneficial to the organism in such a way that it can better compete for food and/or mates. The accumulation of 'bad' mutations in fact mostly happens in creatures with shallow gene pools. It's what most of us refer to as in-breeding.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

What I actually meant to say but worded badly was that the ratio of mutations with deltrious effects to those with genuinely positive effects is higher - as you wrote, most mutations have no immediate effect either way.

That aside, there is a world of difference between sustained flight, as in what most birds do and are clearly superbly designed and engineered for, and gliding (effectively semi-controlled falling or jumping) as witnessed in the "flying" squirrel etc - it's quite simply not the same thing. Supposing a "flying" squirrel beat its "wings" as fast as it could - or even faster, it would not fly. It just isn't designed to.

With regards to the subject of the article, we quite simply do not know whether these birds could fly in the real sense of the word; even supposing the opinion of these particular researchers is correct and they could not, there is absolutely no way that science can tell us for sure that the birds flying around us today are their direct descendents which gradually gained the ability to fly. (There is also no way of scientifically proving categorically that no other birds were living at that time which were fantastic fliers.) It suits a particular worldview to imagine things happened that way, but you can make the same basic facts into some very different and completely contradictory stories; without direct observation it just isn't science but rather philosophy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

If mutations are "overwhelmingly deleterious" that might affect their chances of being inherited. Which is *exactly* the sort of thing that guarantees the occurrence of evolution!

Shouldn't you be telling us some amusing lies about "loss of information" by this time?

Cherry-picking scraps of information to support incoherent nonsense is *not* educating yourself.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

Mendel the abbot and experimenter in genetics? That Mendel?

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Facepalm

Re: Not exactly a shock

Dude, at one point you do have to take a step back and think about what you and others wrote.

It is ballpark science but pretty accurate at times. The fossils of the animals they studied had the make-up of a flying creature, not a fish, not anything else but one able to leap greater distances than their un-feathered counterparts.

If I gave you a third leg, would that hinder you walking? Layerd wings probably had the same effect.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

"The real problem with mutations is that even coupled with natural selection they are not observed by real science to tend to produce increasingly more feature-rich organisms"

By 'real science' you mean Creationist bullshit, right? Cause in the real world, science observes this every day, in systems ranging from bacteria to mammals.

That bit in your comment about 'educating yourself' is a giveaway, really.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

"With regards to the subject of the article, we quite simply do not know whether these birds could fly in the real sense of the word; even supposing the opinion of these particular researchers is correct and they could not, there is absolutely no way that science can tell us for sure that the birds flying around us today are their direct descendents which gradually gained the ability to fly. (There is also no way of scientifically proving categorically that no other birds were living at that time which were fantastic fliers.) It suits a particular worldview to imagine things happened that way, but you can make the same basic facts into some very different and completely contradictory stories; without direct observation it just isn't science but rather philosophy."

I want to frame this and hang it on my wall for all those who worship at the alter of Pop Science. You've got to look really deep inside you to see why it is that you subscribe to a certain worldview. It's not science by any stretch of the imagination. Oh actually, by imagination, yes it is science. My bad - rambling on again.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

"Even a difference in survival of 5% would mean the survival trait would be dominant in the population within a couple of generations."

Yes --- when you propagate the 5% difference through the whole species. But, unless it's a super-power, it means f-all for an individual.

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Re: Not exactly a shock

"Yes --- when you propagate the 5% difference through the whole species. But, unless it's a super-power, it means f-all for an individual."

It means that, ON AVERAGE, such individuals will have more offspring than other individuals of the same species with which they're competing locally (which is what matters). And that many of those offspring will inherit that 5% advantage, and ON AVERAGE will again get to reproduce more than their less-fortunate peers. If the dice roll right, a few generations down the line that 5% HAS propagated across the local population. If not, so what? Genetic damage and mutation means that every population is constantly trying out HUGE numbers of minor variations; some WILL be advantageous, and some of those WILL have the luck and permeate the local reproductive population. The vast scale of the numbers involved absolutely guarantees that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not exactly a shock

Perhaps it is like compound interest?

Multiply by 1.05 over twelve generations and that 5% extra prevalence becomes 80%.

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This is news?

Evolution doesn't come up with an optimum design immediately. It starts with something crude, and refines it over millions of years.

Mum: "Our son's wings are a funny shape."

Son: "Look Mum! I can take off from the ground! I don't need to climb trees!"

Dad: "It will never catch on".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This is news?

> Evolution doesn't come up with an optimum design immediately. It starts with something crude,

Except that's not what happens. First it comes up with with something completely useless on its own, then something else which is useless on its own and then it combines them into something useful. All this while still managing to be the fittest to survive. How many times could life evolve before it thought that reproduction would be a good idea? Have you seen the TED talk on visualisations of what goes on inside a single cell? Its incredibly complex - the "simple cell" I was taught about in school seems to have vanished.

On top of that, we don't really have any indication of "crudeness." All features seem to be rather useful for their function. Semi-flying birds such as chickens don't appear to be primitive compared to the albatross, nor particularly advanced compared to ostriches - they're just different.

The most evolution we see today is merely a change in dimensions or colour change. That doesn't compare to new features. Reptiles seem to have ceased evolving into birds and are firmly, non-feathered. If we have animals with scales and animals with feathers, why don't we have animals with both? Cold-blooded birds anyone?

While there are chimeras such as the platypus, they seem to be feature-complete - we don't seem to have any in-between features - birds laying eggs and then accidentally having live-young. No half-scale-half-feather creatures, Mutations we do see - extra heads or other limbs tend to lead to an early death. Positive structural mutations seem in rather short supply. You'd think with all the billions of ants around we might see at least a few 8 legged ones climbing to the top of the ant-evolution tree. But no. All evolutionary activity seems to have stayed firmly in pre-history.

You'll have to forgive the skepticism.

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Stop

Re: This is news?

"You'd think with all the billions of ants around we might see at least a few 8 legged ones climbing to the top of the ant-evolution tree."

We do - except we're more likely to say, "...the fuck! Dude, this thing has eight fucking legs! Check this shit out!" than to say, "Perhaps this an occasional but usually unobserved phenomenon indicative of a vanishingly brief snapshot of evolution in action..."

Things appear static and finished to us because we occupy a phenomenally short period of time and don't see into the future.

Your (and sadly, many others') argument is akin to, say, people who live their lives in a microsecond seeing a car as it's driving to the gas station. Some of them go all over the thing, look at the engine, figure out how internal combustion works, describe how the tires function, and all of this stuff, and extrapolate that it's probably going to that gas station over there, and probably came from wherever over here.

Then a bunch of people say, "Aha haha! What bullshit! This thing hasn't moved a bit! I mean, OK, we know that the engine is rotating and that the transmission works and that the driven wheels are rotating and we've even seen them rotate by a few millionths of a degree... so of course it can maybe go an inch or something, but an inch isn't all the way to the gas station! It could NEVER go THAT far because it's not already there! Why don't we see cars further up and down the road if cars can move, if you're so smart? Hah! Got you there, don't I!"

And then everyone else bang their heads on their desks and try to forget the whole thing ever happened. Which is what I'm going to do now.

Thunk, thunk, thunk.

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"On top of that, we don't really have any indication of "crudeness." "

Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to any set of organisms that started to reproduce 'crude' features in an environment where they are surrounded by organisms which have had their features honed by thousands of generations of evolution? How do you think your eight-legged ants v0.6.2a are going to manage when they bump into the neighboring colony colony of six-legged ants v14.39.18d?

The only 'crude' features that will show up for more than one or two generations are ones which help survive drastic challenges such as man. On which topic, if you think all evolutionary activity has stayed firmly in pre-history, you should contact the NHS and offer to help them with all the umpteen bacteria which have evolved resistance to everything modern chemistry can throw at them.

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WTF?

Re: This is news?

"First it comes up with with something completely useless on its own, then something else which is useless on its own and then it combines them into something useful. All this while still managing to be the fittest to survive"

No. DNA replication errors give rise to mutations all the time. We just don't notice most of them, as they have no immediate effect. Evolution is the rare occurence of a beneficial mutation that gives the creature a small but significant chance of replicating its own DNA, ie survival and breeding. Yes, these are very unlikely, and would require an unimaginable amount of time to develop into, for example, wings that generate enough lift and power to allow a bird to fly. However, 65,000,000 years since the end of the dinosaur era is, frankly, a sod of a long time - and this is not allowing for evolution before the asteroid hit. Modern bacteria are devolping immunity to antibiotics at an alarming rate through exactly this process - they don't live too long and replicate at a vast rate, we therefore see evolution in action, albeit in a relatively small way. Nevertheless, they are surviving longer and are able to pass on their DNA to subsequent generations.

You also forget that evolution fosters adaptions to succeed in a given environment. This is why we don't see fish with legs, or birds with trunks. We do see bacteria that evolved to live in near boiling water, whales that look superficially like fish but still have vestigial legs.

The point of your post seemed to be that we don't see any "part-formed" creatures such as cold blooded birds - who says therapods were cold-blooded anyway? But you forget that your viewpoint on the world, indeed the whole of recorded history, is a miniscule moment in time - who is to say you're NOT seeing partial evolutionary processes in action? Are more hedgehogs running rather than curling up to save themselves from lorries? There may be a colony of 8 legged ants, providing having 8 legs give them some survial advantage over the usual 6, unlikely though that might be - 6 legged insects have been around for a very long time, I suspect the model works pretty well.

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Anonymous Coward

@A.J. MacLeod

I think what you "actually meant to say but worded badly" was *TOTAL, UTTER BOLLOCKS*!

Don't worry, we got the gist of your message.

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This post has been deleted by its author

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Anonymous Coward

@AJ

@AJ isn't natural selection one mechanism of evolution?

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_25

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Alien

There's no such thing as evolution.

The world was crafted by aliens.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's no such thing as evolution.

Rubbish, we worship Tyche, the Goddess (of chance).

She crafted the world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's no such thing as evolution.

"Tyche was a noble but stern goddess who opposed evils of the society and punished those unworthy of good with misfortune and kind people with good luck."

I don't see her flipping a coin or using a random number generator.

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Anonymous Coward

IT angle on mutations

Data loss is data loss - anyway you look at it. What if the data holding device losses data about it's own construction? Can it any longer hold the data it was holding before said data loss of it's own construction?

I hope scientists *keep studying* it until they understand how it works. If that happens before I die, I may be able to read an interesting book about DNA. Until then, I'll just stick to things like simple electronics. I can use that to be creative.

I always find these *scientific experiments* very interesting.

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Re: IT angle on mutations

But a strand of DNA is a bit more complicated than a chunk of binary code. This might be a good analogy if you could code software that actually built the computer it ran on.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: IT angle on mutations

Why not look into genetic algorithms? You might learn something (assuming that learning isn't against your religion.)

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Unhappy

So sad

Expected more.

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Paris Hilton

"ballistic soaring"

What what whaaaat?!?

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Flight itself could have started from display behaviour

Species of birds the world today over have display behaviour involving jumping; it's highly implausible that some of their remote ancestors, at least, wouldn't have had something similar. So, consider a species with purely decorative display proto-feathers, with males indulging in jumping displays. In such populations, any traits allowing the displaying animal to jump higher or stay off the ground longer - such as proto-feathers providing just a little bit of lift, say - could easily become a selective breeding advantage, driving the development of a reasonably functional feather over quite a short period of time.

Yes, it would be a long way from that to true flight - but it seems to me that it's one possible, reasonably plausible reason for development to to start down that road.

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