March 14, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Pterosaurs and Birds Flew Together

Archaeopteryx flew as well as a pheasant, say paleontologists, and pterosaurs prospered right up to the moment of extinction.

It should not seem surprising that birds and pterosaurs shared the same air space. There’s plenty of room in the friendly skies. Today, flying creatures of three different phyla—bats, birds and insects—fly in similar habitats without colliding. Even the densest collections of birds, like starling murmurations, leave plenty of room for other flying creatures. Don’t forget, too, that bird collisions with man’s fleet of aircraft of all sizes are relatively rare.

Pterosaur News

With that it mind, we don’t need to worry about birds and pterosaurs sharing the air, even though one species found in Morocco this month, Nature says, was the size of a small plane. Therein lies a paradigm shift:

More than half a dozen species of pterosaur — winged reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs — have been uncovered in a phosphate-mining region of Morocco.

Researchers previously thought that pterosaurs declined to a small and unvaried bunch some 80 million years ago, and then became extinct. But the Moroccan pterosaur fossils described by Nicholas Longrich at the University of Bath, UK, and his colleagues include at least five new species dating to 66 million to 67 million years ago. They range from a creature (Alcione elainus) the size of a large eagle to a giant animal, as yet unnamed, with a wingspan of nearly 9 metres.

Analysis of these fossils and others suggest that, rather than fading away, a diverse range of pterosaurs thrived until the asteroid strike blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Other flyers, including birds and butterflies and gliding mammals, survived just fine from the alleged “asteroid strike” that has become the evolutionists’ favorite device for causing dinosaur extinction. To keep the impact theory in the public eye, Phys.org headlined its coverage, “Pterosaurs went out with a bang, not a whimper.” That article includes some photos of the fossils. The new giant species had a wing span at least three times as large as the largest living bird. The paper by Longrich et al. can be found in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.

The Latest Archaeopteryx Revision

This creature’s dinosaur-vs-bird status has changed so many times, it’s hard to know what to believe. This week, scientists are claiming that Archaeopteryx was indeed a flyer, based on non-invasive X-ray analysis of the Munich specimen. Here’s how the news media are reporting this:

  • Specimen of Archaeopteryx discovered in 2005 in Eichstadt, Germany, now housed in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Photos by David Coppedge

    Dinobird Archaeopteryx only flew in short bursts like a pheasant (New Scientist). This reporter claims that “experts now view Archaeopteryx as a flying dinosaur.” The article calls it a “dinobird” in the headline. But then, they say, “The Jurassic dinobird Archaeopteryx flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance active flight.” So it did engage in powered flight. Today’s chickens, pheasants and quail fly in a similar way, but we don’t call them dinobirds.

  • The early bird got to fly: Archaeopteryx was an active flyer (Phys.org). This article confesses that the feathers of Archaeopteryx resembled those of modern birds, and the wing bones “shared important adaptations with those of modern flying birds.” The only contentious part was the shoulder girdle, which probably prevented sustained flight. At least one evolutionist was surprised: “Indeed, we now know that Archaeopteryx was already actively flying around 150 million years ago, which implies that active dinosaurian flight had evolved even earlier!” (See the March 9 entry about the phrase “earlier than thought” being common in evolutionary reports). It appears, therefore, that the main difference between this extinct bird and modern birds regarding flight capability regards a weaker shoulder girdle, something seen today in certain living birds.
  • Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists (BBC News). Artwork of the magpie-sized Archaeopteryx in flight begins this article. “The question of whether Archaeopteryx was a ground dweller, a glider or able to fly has been the subject of debate since the days of Darwin,” remarks Helen Briggs. Now, paleontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh thinks “this was the best evidence yet that the animal was capable of powered flight.

I think it’s case closed now,” he said. “Archaeopteryx was capable of at least short bursts of powered flight. It’s amazing that sticking a fossil into a synchrotron can reveal so much about how it behaved as a real animal back when it was alive.”

Bird Eden

New bird species have been found in Colombia. It’s a “version of Eden,” reports Phys.org. Despite the country being a war zone, “Colombia boasts the greatest number of bird types on the planet—1,920, or 19 percent of those on the planet—a veritable paradise for birders.” The article talks about dedicated bird watchers, including a courageous young man. “Despite his small stature, 10-year-old Juan David Camacho has big dreams: pacing through Colombia’s jungle with binoculars in tow, he aims to spot all the bird species his country offers.” Photos of colorful honeycreepers, tanagers and hummingbirds accompany the article.

If Archaeopteryx was capable of powered flight, it puts the squeeze on Darwinians, for at least three reasons: (1) numerous adaptations are required for powered flight, as shown in the Illustra film Flight: The Genius of Birds;(2) all these adaptations would have had to occur simultaneously earlier in the Darwin timeline; and (3) it undercuts the Darwinians’ case that this bird was a transitional form.

Scientists become habituated to the fumes of popular theories. Here we see two: the extinction of dinosaurs due to an asteroid strike, and the gradual evolution of birds from dinosaurs. Both of these fact-challenged and logic-challenged ideas are waiting their turn to be falsified. Stay tuned.

 

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