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Thread: Avian fossil record.

  1. #1 Avian fossil record. 
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    If birds had gone the same way as the dinosaurs and all we had was a very patchy fossil record, would we be able to deduce that they flew?


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    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    hollow and thin bone structures, length of wing span in accordance to approximate body mass. We can tell which birds flew and which didn't from dinasaur times, such as archaeopterix which did fly and the Moa which was a flightless ground bird


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    Thanks Nevyn, but if birds (and lets say bats for the sake of argument!) hadn't made it to the modern era and no one had ever seen a flying animal other than an insect would it not be more cautious to belive that these "hollow and thin bone structures" belonged to a peculiar reptile. And how about feathers? I think they show up very rarely in the fossil record, would we not believe that they mere just modified scales used only for the purpose of display? I've heard that scientists use a thing called "occams razor" which has something to do with favouring the simpler of two theories. How would that apply?
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    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    the wings on the dinosaurs wold have looked like implements of gliding at the very least especially when compared to such human activities such as paragliding etc. the evidence of a large sternum or Keel would have shown that there were very powerful muscels across the chest of the animal conected to the long flaps of skin and bone. Conclusion: that these 'wings' moved up and down and what other call of these would be needed in nature except for flight?
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    Cooking Something Good MacGyver1968's Avatar
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    That's an interesting "what if?" If flight had proved to be too "expensive" for any creature to sustain...and there were no creatures alive today that fly....I bet there'd be a thread in the "Pseudoscience" section titled "Did animals ever fly?" and everyone would be all like....there's no way....and we'd probably not have planes.
    Fixin' shit that ain't broke.
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    You're putting the cart before the horse. "When compared to such human activities such as paragliding etc", these activities are an attempt to mimic the flight of birds. Remember no one has ever seen a bird :wink:
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    Quote Originally Posted by icarus
    You're putting the cart before the horse. "When compared to such human activities such as paragliding etc", these activities are an attempt to mimic the flight of birds. Remember no one has ever seen a bird :wink:
    so? people might still have invented the paraglider... after all we have created other aeronautical devices without the study of birds e.g hot air balloon, Zeplin, helecopter. The laws of aerodynamics stay the say even without birds. There are no space bound creatures and yet we can still get into space, Human ingenuity has to take some credit too
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    we have after all deduced that pterosaurs could fly without ever seeing one alive, so why not birds ?
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Perhaps we haven't "deduced" that pterosaurs flew. Maybe inductive reasoning was at work. i.e. birds fly & birds have wings therefore all things that look birdlike fly.
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  11. #10  
    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icarus
    Perhaps we haven't "deduced" that pterosaurs flew. Maybe inductive reasoning was at work. i.e. birds fly & birds have wings therefore all things that look birdlike fly.
    what other beneficial purpose could the flaps have served in nature? the hollow bones, the aerodynamic shape only could possibly point to flight
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    Are bones and aerodynamic shape (aerofoil?) so clearly defined in the fossil record that no other conclusions could be reached? Remember that in this scenario no living vertebrate has ever displayed sustained flight. Couldn't an alternative theory be posited? "Flaps" are seen in reptiles solely for the use of display, crested lizards anyone? Look at a peacock's tailfeathers. Flight would at least be a an unorthodox explanation. I would opt for the more parsimonious explanation.
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    Forum Ph.D. Nevyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icarus
    Are bones and aerodynamic shape (aerofoil?) so clearly defined in the fossil record that no other conclusions could be reached? Remember that in this scenario no living vertebrate has ever displayed sustained flight. Couldn't an alternative theory be posited? "Flaps" are seen in reptiles solely for the use of display, crested lizards anyone? Look at a peacock's tailfeathers. Flight would at least be a an unorthodox explanation. I would opt for the more parsimonious explanation.
    what about short arms? claws for gripping, large sternum or keel? powerful pectorial musles? beek?
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    Are you really observing these features in the fossil record or are you being influenced by direct observation? The fossil record of birds amounts to only around 100 specimens. Most of the features you have mentioned could be found on flightless waterfowl. Penguins?
    What makes you so sure that flight could be the only conclusion?
    I think that if you were putting these ideas foreward in a real world situation you may be considered a crank. (Albeit a correct one) :wink:
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  15. #14  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Flight evolved indepently many times. It's a bit silly to propose it is something special.
    "Kill them all and let God sort them out."

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    Many times? 4 times. Pterosaurs,birds,bats,insects. That's it.
    All other aerial locomotion is gliding.
    Flight is something very special indeed. Birds and insects are so ubiquitous that we tend to take them for granted. After you've read this post do me a favour and look out the window for 5 minutes. You will almost certainly see a bird in flight. Now imagine you've never seen one before but were presented with fossilized remains. I think you would have to be pretty brave to sy that they flew.
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  17. #16  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    4 major lineages evolving flight. Hardly an accident. Gliding evolved countless times. Gliding being the predecessor of flight making it rather attractive to propose that flight is inevitable. As it apparently was.

    Bats still don't mostly fly during the day because the birds dominate the sky during the day. One can easily propose flight will not evolve easily currently because most flying niches are currently taken.
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  18. #17  
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    Icarus makes a very good point. All of the points made so far that would have led us to deduce that fossil birds flew are based upon our observations of creatures that fly today. Probably we would have worked it out eventually, but it would not have been an obvious step.
    Alternative explanations could have included devices to attract mates, to scare off predators, or to provide a cooling system.
    SM is correct that for us to have faced this difficulty birds and bats would have to absent form the present world.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    in that case, the hardest step in the thought process would be to accept the possibility of flight

    however, since we know from experience that flight is possible, it is easier to recognise features that are compatible with flight
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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