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How did feathers evolve? – Carl Zimmer

How did feathers evolve? – Carl Zimmer

Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Feathers are some of the most remarkable things ever made by an animal. They are gorgeous in their complexity, delicate in their construction, and yet strong enough to hold a bird thousands of feet in the air. Like all things in nature, feathers evolved over millions of years into their modern form. It could be hard to imagine how this could have happened. After all, what did the intermediate forms look like? What good is half a wing, festooned with half-feathers? Thanks to science, we now know that birds are living dinosaurs. You can see the kinship in their skeletons. Certain dinosaurs share some anatomical details with birds found in no other animals, such as wish bones. And in the late 1990s, paleontologists started digging up some compelling support for that idea: dinosaurs with bits of feathers still preserved on their bodies. Since then, scientists have found dozens of species of dinosaurs with remnants of feathers. Some were as small as pigeons, and some were the size of a school bus. If you look at how they are related on a family tree, the evolution of feathers doesn’t seem quite so impossible. The most distant feathered relatives of birds had straight feathers that looked like wires. Then these wires split apart, producing simple branches. In many dinosaur lineages, these simple feathers evolved into more intricate ones, including some that we see today on birds. At the same time, the feathers spread across the bodies of dinosaurs, turning from sparse patches of fuzz into dense plumage, which even extended down to their legs. A few fossils even preserved some of the molecules that give feathers color. They reveal a beautiful range of colors: glossy, dark plumage, reminiscent of crows, alternating strips of black and white, or splashes of bright red. Some dinosaurs had high crests on their heads, and others had long, dramatic tail feathers. Now, none of these dinosaurs could use their feathers to fly – their arms were too short and the rest of their bodies were far too heavy. But, birds don’t just use feathers to fly. A woodcock uses feathers to blend in perfectly with its forest backdrop. An ostrich stretches its wings over its nest to shade its young. A peacock displays its magnificent tail feathers to attract peahens. Feathers could have served these functions for dinosaurs too. Exactly how feathered dinosaurs took flight is still a bit of a mystery. But if a small-feathered dinosaur flapped its arms as it ran up an incline, its feathers would have provided extra lift to help it run faster. This accident of physics might have led to the evolution of longer dinosaur arms, which would let them run faster and even leap short distances through the air. Eventually, their arms stretched out into wings. Only then, perhaps 50 million years after the first wiry feathers evolved, did feathers lift those dinosaurs into the sky.

99 thoughts on “How did feathers evolve? – Carl Zimmer

  • Well what good is half a wing? Well, look at cars, particularly high performance cars, those have very crude wings on them, spoilers. These can have a huge effect on the handling of a car. Since the 1930's Car designers have realised how important aerodynamics are even for vehicles which ostensibly get all their control from the wheels.
    Small simple wings are very useful for a small creature needing to move fast with manoeuvrability.

  • You can make up any story you like and use 'imagination'.  Ask a molecular biologist what the similarities are between scales and feathers, answer, there are none.  If birds evolved from dinosaurs then why do we find bird fossils in dinosaur layers?  They were living at the same time as the dinosaurs – fully formed.

  • I actually find feathered dinosaurs to make evolutionary sense. 

    For example, dinosaurs like Raptors and Troodon, found in cold climates, would have needed feathers to keep out the biting chill of the brutal Winters. Most of them were too small by Dino Standards to insulate themselves. Thus, feathers were an absolute necessity for them. 

    In terms of oviraptors, like Citipati, found in the Gobi desert of Mongolia, they seem to have used the feathers to either intimidate an opponent or predator or attract a mate.
    Finally, we come to Microraptor, Sinornithosaurus, and Rahonavis. These three evolved feathers for one thing only. Flight. For Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus, it wasn't even powered flight, but gliding. When it comes to Microraptor, it didn't have the muscles for powered flight. So, it made the most of its four wings. By holding its rear legs back, Microraptor had the ability to travel through the forest in a series of long looping glides. The bad thing was that once on the ground the long feathers turn from an advantage into weakness. Microraptor was barely able to walking, much less run. Which made it and easy target for ground base predators.

    Before the discovery of Yutyrannus, scientists didn't know if such huge dinosaurs would have or need feathers, but like with all these other examples makes evolutionary sense. Which is shown today by birds.

  • So in short, feathers evolved when these early birds were threatened and they used their "wings" to get more speed for the running. Then the ones who got longer arms and bigger feathers, survived longer because they were able to escape the predators. At some time they had so long arms and big feathers that they could glide a short distance, but not yet able to fly. And this eventually led to flying.

    Does this explanation sound anyhow plausible? At least for me it does.

  • so dragons are real?? 😀 ! 
    that means dragons could have existed right? 
    Awesome!! think of all the possibilities  

  • how to be a creationist 1 make up stuff about eveloution so that you can make fun of people who beleve eveloution for saying that even though they never said it you made it up 2 MAKE ABSOLUTE SURE that you have no idea what eveloution is 3 use a argument like "throw dirt up in the air what are the chanses it will land in the exact form of a person" this argument will really make you look like you have no idea what you are talking about but if they counter that argument make another like "if we evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys?" they will HAVE to argue against that when they do move on to step 4 at this point start puting a swear inbetween every word it might just make them give up on how stupid you are and leave BUT if they dont move on to step 5 start using bullshit statements there are plenty in creationist guide to be a moron which starts here lets start by listing stupid arguments here "evelutien nest think that whales evulved frum wulves HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHA" heres another good one "evolutien est thenk dat animals chang shape HAHAHAHAHHAHA my cat cant chunge shepe su chec mat eitheest"this one is bound to make them go facepalm which probly means you win creationist "u thenk dat unecurns r reel HAHA u thenk dut dreguns r reel? HAHA geet reekt"

  • I found it fascinating how closely related we are to each other. Feathers and fur are related to each other, but feathers just happen to be a more complex version of fur. It'd be interesting if some dinosaurs evolved to have feathers to run up mountains, while some got fur to keep warm.

    It's interesting thinking what might've happened if our world hadn't had mountains and feathers never came to be. Flight would've been never thought of and consider impossible humanly and biologically. Actually, we'd probably have planes shaped like bugs instead of birds though, ha ha, if birds never existed.

  • Is it possible that dinosaures evolved the way they did for beeing grater scavengers that they were? becoming brain eaters they swetted the fethers

  • I knew this already but my friends really hate when I saw dinosaurs are birds. So I'm going to show it to them. Can't wait The looks on there faces.

  • I guess I still don't understand how the initial mutation helped any one animal survive against all other odds.
    I get how once you have an animal with enough feathers how those feathers might become more and more complex etc, but how does one tiny patch of a feather help survival? Is that what is meant by evolutionary leap?

  • Check mate, creationists. Your God isn't so helpful after all. There would have been huge marine reptiles around today if your 'idea' is real.

  • Like all things in nature? Great video, but I think you should correct that to say "like all animals in nature" or something.

  • Feather are an evolutionary construct from fish scales, to reptiles scales, and into feathers. You can get salmonella poisoning from fish, reptiles, and birds. Did anyone ever question as to why this is so?

  • Is this a kiddies channel ? Maybe should have emphasised the " might have" a bit more. Young minds do tend to take things literally.

  • Dinosaurs had feathers on them so birds totally came from them…yeah, and all the other species with fur must have all derived from each other too. You atheists are so silly!

  • feathers and hair/fur are most likely related, i mean look at this.

    feathers start off as long and thin structures (sound familar?) and then branched off.

  • All these evolutionist and creationist trying to tear each other apart without realizing that neither side will ever sway the other’s opinion. Can you guys just realize that evolution is just as much based on faith in spontaneous generation as creation is on God? Now if you’ll excuse me, if off to enjoy believing in a crude mixture of both.

  • not all feathers can make the creature fly…..
    just imagine…..giant t-rex flying gloriusly and fabulously in the sky………it's intriguing….but also scary….

  • Evolution is kind of impossible
    How can the magnificent bird is made of by incident

    Even the median evolution doesnt survive? Or useless evolution dont appear too?

  • Aghi hope creationists fade away like flat earthers in the future.Why can we discuss scientific things in peace?

  • I'd love to hear about how other animals started what led to flight, like bats and insects. What would a proto-bat-wing or proto-dragonfly-wing look like?

  • Never ever hurt or touch a rooster without unless it wants or lets u. They evolved from a dinasour and its genes are still there deep inside.

  • Hmmm…. yeah but, …you're just 'describing' the visual animation – you're not really 'explaining' anything are you?

    Are you able to explain, if WINGS were 'randomly' or 'accidentally' used for FLYING (implying that the act of flying is 'unnatural'), or were they genetically 'produced' for the specific purpose of FLYING (implying that the act of flying is 'natural')?

    The point I'm getting at is, whether or not Wings were 'designed' specifically for the act of Flying (in the same way that Eyes were 'designed' for seeing). If YES, then wouldn't that suggest that genes/DNA are somehow 'aware' of the concept of flying in order to create aerodynamic wings?

    If NO, then wouldn't that suggest that ALL our body parts and organs were NOT 'meant' for the purposes that we use them for (eyes, ears, arms, kidneys, etc)?

  • Feathers are so common in Archosauria that it seems even Pterosaurs (a cousin to dinosaurs) had them.

  • Thanks and love Ted!

    But evolution still a non sense and impossible that magnificent living thing is made up by accident over time. Thats logic.

    I believe in Creatism. There must be a Creator.

  • Speculation gone wild. What else is new. The evolution of a birds wing via natural selection acting on random copying errors is preposterous. A birds wing is a spectacular model of design. Our most advanced aircraft are clumsy…. even oafish by comparison. Imagine it evolving in small increments. Evolutionists lack the all-important embarrassment gene.

  • Pure BS this video. There should be millions of transitional fossils linking modern day birds to ancient dinosaurs and yet there aren't any. Feathers are highly complex even abstract to understand from their complexity but believers in evolution believe that feathers evolved by the blind forces of what? physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, natural selection, mutations? …what blind forces could have given shape to feathers? it's almost as if genes knew consciously how and where to mutate in order to become airborne. Absolutely no evidence but unproven speculations stated with authority as if it were true.

  • Evolutionists only have drawings and stories……Creationists have genetics, biochemistry, living animals and fossil evidence….pretty drawings and stories are not science Carl.

  • "Eventually, their arms stretched out to wings."

    As a design engineer, I tell you this is this is comical and sad at the same time Carl.

  • "Accident of physics .." Could have been named bits better. Yes, that discovery might have been fortuitous, but only through trained eyes!
    Running on incline in video misinterpreted the mechanism that those feathered creatures (or chicks of some of extant taxa) exercised. Lift force generated by wing stroke there is contrary to normal flight is used to increase traction on the substrate. It's called WAIR (wing assisted incline running), which is a vital clue on the subject of origins of bird flight.

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