In this beautifully illustrated lesson from TED Ed, science writer and educator Carl Zimmer explains some answers to the question, How did feathers evolve?
From his article in National Geographic:
Most of us will never get to see nature’s greatest marvels in person. We won’t get a glimpse of a colossal squid’s eye, as big as a basketball. The closest we’ll get to a narwhal’s unicornlike tusk is a photograph. But there is one natural wonder that just about all of us can see, simply by stepping outside: dinosaurs using their feathers to fly.
With animation by Armella Leung, see how today’s birds are related to the dinosaurs of the past, and how fossils with feathers have helped us understand that connection.
Related viewing: evolution, dinosaurs, birds, flying, and a robot that flies like a bird.
From Untamed Science, a tour with Dr. Lindsay Zanno, Director of the Paleontology & Geology Research Laboratory at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
The key things she emphasized were that a) it’s a lot of work b) it’s not glamorous c) rarely to they find complete skeletons d) they don’t excavate it with little brushes out in the field and e) they spend close to 50 times the effort on a skeleton, in the lab, once it’s been pulled out of the earth.
There’s also a field trip to Crystal Geyser Quarry, “the largest feathered dinosaur graveyard” in the world… so far, at least! From the team’s site:
We are living through the most exciting period in the history of dinosaur paleontology. More than half of all known dinosaur species were discovered within the past 25 years, including nearly all of the remarkable feathered dinosaur specimens. One of the hottest areas for dinosaur discovery in North America is the Cedar Mountain Formation of eastern Utah, where new dinosaurs are being discovered and described at a phenomenal rate. These fossil beds span the last 25-30 million years of the Early Cretaceous, a time when North America was undergoing a period of climate change that resulted in localized extinction events and invasive dinosaur species.
Our team returns to Utah every year to hunt for new dinosaurs. This year we began excavations at an unprecedented dinosaur burial ground in the Cedar Mountain Formation known as the Crystal Geyser Quarry (CGQ). The CGQ is a mass mortality site entombing a rare and remarkable dinosaur dubbed Falcarius utahensis. One hundred and twenty-five million years ago an estimated 300 Falcarius individuals ranging in age from hatchlings to 4-meter long adults died and were buried here under mysterious conditions.