The Last of the dinosaurs: How birds ingeniously adapted to the new world

Jun 12, 2018 by

Roughly about 65 million years ago, the world belonged to the dinosaurs; in particular the theropods and sauropods that roamed the earth and literally shook it to its core whenever they trekked the great landscape.

All this came to an end as their inescapable demise came hurtling towards them from miles away, in the form of a meteor whose impact devastated the earth’s ecosphere. In fact, the Chicxulub crater can vividly be seen today from aerial photos of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Descendants of the theropods

Despite all this death and destruction, it led to the inevitable rise of the mammals as the dominant species on earth, from which the human branch descended.

From the ashes too rose a particular creature that is still with us today, and those are birds. In fact, birds were actually descendants of the theropods; a group that hosts some of the most megalithic killers of prehistoric time such as the T-Rex.

So who were the closest relatives to the avians that now roam today? One particular prehistoric beast of interest is the velociraptor. Coming in at roughly between 100 to 500 pounds, it was much bigger than most of the birds present today, though shared some striking similarities such as feather growth and brain size.

That being said, how did birds become significantly smaller than their ancestors? To put this into perspective, scientists have come up with a theory often known as hopeful monsters. As per this theory, for such major evolutionary leaps to have taken place, there must have been massive genetic modifications that occurred on a routinely basis.

Speedy evolutionary traits

Hence such significant alterations over a short period of time, could have resulted in the transformation of the smaller theropods to the first prehistoric birds that roamed the earth.

However, it has become increasingly clear that the evolution of dinosaurs to birds had multiple factors that went into play. For example, certain features prominent in birds today such as bird-specific feathers have been discovered to have emerged in dinosaurs, long before birds began their evolutionary road to present-day avians.

Interestingly, the current structure of bird skulls today seem to have a striking similarity to that of dinosaur embryos; a feature that probably evolved as a means of survival as pre-historic birds began to reduce in size.

That said, other evolutionary traits of worth note are bird beak adaptations according to their specific environment.

The advantage of being small

Though quite a number of people might single wings or feathers as the main charactersics that distinguish birds from their predecessors the dinosaurs, the bird’s small stature is of monumental value.

Research shows that the first birds declined in size at a pretty massive rate; clearly indicating that size was an important factor, and possibly an advantageous trait, when it came to the evolutionary race.

The shrinkage sped up fast once bird ancestors began to develop wings and tried out gliding flight. During these tumultuous times, developing traits first was essential for survival; and in time, a majority of birds took to the skies as their safest bet for evolutionary success.

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