Palaeontologists have wondered for over a hundred years – how did dinosaurs evolve flight and become birds? To find the answer, researchers built a robot dinosaur!
Flying requires lots of physical adaptations, including wings and feathers. However, we know from fossils that many feathered dinosaurs couldn’t fly. What did they use their feathered arms for? The robot-building researchers have an answer: scaring tasty bugs and making them easier to catch!
To test their hypothesis, the international team designed their robot to be like Caudipteryx, a peacock-sized, insect-eating dinosaur closely related to birds. Then they programmed the robot to scare insects by waving its arms and tail. Importantly, they also made feathers for its arms and tail, that could be taken on or off.
Next, the researchers took their robot dinosaur for walks in the park, looking for grasshoppers. After lots of tests, they found that feathers made the robot almost twice as effective at scaring grasshoppers!
This experiment shows that dinosaurs with larger and stiffer feathers would be better at scaring, catching and eating insects. Over tens of thousands of years, these longer, stronger feathers might become flight-worthy. Then it’s only one small step before dinosaurs could take to the skies as birds.
This robot dinosaur is scary (for grasshoppers, at least)
Credit: Jinseok Park, Piotr Jablonski et al.
Caudipterix had feathers and ate insects
Credit: Wikimedia commons/Christophe Hendrickx CC BY-SA 3.0