Another fly in the ointment. Fewer than half of those living in the warm rainforests of Indonesia in pre-Columbian times had feathers in their feathers, research finds. Some were also venomous.
A gene mutation unique to birds gave some bird relatives the ability to fly without feathers, paleontologists report. The mutation apparently gave the scientists little trouble, because their way of measuring size showed giant birds such as the Sierra Nevada albatross — the world’s largest flying animal that lived during pre-Columbian times — living at no more than half an inch shorter than feathers.
These animals were also one of the first to have the ability to breed in different breeds or to pass on their genes. These three traits mean that if the importance of feathers for flight falls as a result of better understanding how genes work, many of the birds studied in the new study are likely to still belong to this race of large ancestors.
All these ornithomans were the offspring of a five-decade ecological race of flying reptiles that lived in Indonesia in the Cretaceous period from 200 million to 65 million years ago. The ancestral creatures grew up and died on the sea floor. Of course, with Earth’s current climate, we won’t ever get to revisit these wild pre-humans: Many of their ancestral populations perished during the last mass extinction 65 million years ago.
Bless us the fly. We’re making space — and flying — for gigantic creatures of the past.
Colossal flying reptile is largest known flying animal ever to live on the planet
Jason Bensing, University of Chicago
Sean Clark, University of Edinburgh
Chris France, University of Texas at Austin
Lydia Gannapel, University of Washington
Matthew Boston, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Micaela Burca, University of Geneva
Kyle Lowe, The Nature Conservancy
Eric Hage, C.S. Lewis College
Michael Krüger, Museum E. Tain, Louis L’Amour Foundation
Morten Kjaerup, Ph.D., The Royal Tyrrell Museum
Ole Ladottes, University of Cambridge
Thomas Dye, Dominion University
Sarah Driscoll, University of Chicago
Matthew Moate, Norfolk State University
Nancy Pollet, University of Oslo
Carlos Rosario, Royal Tyrrell Museum
Elena Sedlmayr, University of Queensland
Contact Katherine Boyd at [email protected]