The Flap Ruse
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A team of paleontologists came up with a creative way to test an evolutionary theory about why some dinosaur species had feathers, Cosmos Magazine reported.
Because they lacked an actual living dinosaur, researchers built a robot resembling a Caudipteryx – a bipedal, peacock-sized predator from the early Cretaceous – in size, shape and movement.
Aptly named Robopteryx, the dino-bot had an aluminum body skinned in black felt, plastic wings and black paper feathers.
In their study, the team explained that the purpose of the robot was to determine why Caudipteryx and other dinos had feathers despite their inability to fly.
They theorized that the plumage was used for flapping to startle prey, similar to the way modern birds hunt using a “flush-and-pursue” strategy.
In a series of experiments, the researchers observed how grasshoppers responded when the Robopteryx flapped its artificial black wings at different distances.
They also examined grasshoppers’ neuro-physical reactions by removing their antennae and exposing their ventral nerve cords to an animation of Robopteryx.
Their findings showed that the robot’s wing flapping triggered grasshoppers to flee, supporting the “flush-and-pursue” theory.
The authors noted that even seemingly inefficient structures like Caudipteryx’s small wings could have played a crucial role in its predatory strategy, according to Scientific American.
Despite their diminutive size and unconventional appearance, these wings may have provided a selective advantage for the dinosaur in hunting and survival.