Updated date:

What is the Theory of Dinosaur to Bird Evolution

Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.

Archaeopteryx fossil with clearly visable feathers.

Archaeopteryx fossil with clearly visable feathers.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley

The Theory Forms

Not many people know that the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs is almost as old as dinosaur paleontology itself. It dates back to same period Darwin was starting to propose his theory of evolution. Darwin was not immediately liked. In fact one of his proponents was a Thomas Henry Huxley, a 20-something year old self-taught biologist and anatomist. Normally such a person wouldn't take up much time or attention from the intellectual elite at the time but there was something about this young man that drew Darwin to him. He wished to convince him that the theory of evolution was not just hot air and that's what he did. Within a few years Huxley went from an ardent disbeliever to a proponent of Darwin's theory. In Darwin's later life Huxley took on the challenge to show the world the advancements of science and evolutionary theory. He was the first to call himself Darwin's Bulldog.

During this time he also was busy in his own studies and was becoming an expert in reptilian fossils. A strange fossil had been found in 1861 that was named archaeopteryx. It was 145 million years old and appeared to be a very primitive bird with flight feathers and wings. However it was strange in the fact it's skeleton, and particularly its head, all looked more like a lizard then a bird. It had rows of sharp teeth where a beak should have been and maintained three claws on its wings and back feet that resembled dinosaurs more then birds. Huxley took this to mean that small carnivorous dinosaurs had evolved through time to become birds. He had his supporters and believers at the time but the theory had long fallen out of favor by the time I came around. Still, it was intriguing. Modern paleontologists often avoided the subject, unable to explain why it had combined features, they eventually classified it as a bird. There was no other fossils found with more primitive feathers or other links on this evolutionary chain. Paleontologists considered it an evolutionary dead end, not the ancestors of birds. Few kept this accused antiquated belief in dinosaur birds.

Fossil with down feathers

Fossil with down feathers

Fossil with primitive "flight feathers" on arms and legs (likely for gliding)

Fossil with primitive "flight feathers" on arms and legs (likely for gliding)

Fossil flight feather from unknown animal.

Fossil flight feather from unknown animal.

Artist's rendition of proto-bird dinosaur.

Artist's rendition of proto-bird dinosaur.

Feathered Dinosaurs Motherload Found in China

Starting in 1994 a series of discoveries were made in China by farmers. They unearthed a treasure trove of feathered dinosaur and primitive bird fossils that dated between 120-145 million years ago. They were the first to find not only one missing link but dozens, showing a clear picture and proving therapods were indeed bird ancestors.

The first of the feathered dinosaurs perplexed modern paleontologists. It was titled Sinosauropteryx prima and it looked entirely like a therapod dinosaur with one exception, it was covered in hair-like down feathers. Paleontologists clamored together and theorized that feathers evolved to keep these dinosaurs warm or protected from the elements. Some claimed feathers likely evolved many times and this was not the infamous avian ancestor.

Then Sinornithosaurus was discovered. It was another dinosaur covered in down feathers but this time it had a little more. It had stiff feathers on its arms, not unlike flight feathers, but not enough to actually aid in flight or gliding. These could have evolved for ornamentation to attract a mate or to keep balance while they were chasing prey. These dinosaurs had long arms used for snatching prey and drawing them nearer to their dreadful teeth.

Just as the paleontologists were starting to get worried their disbelief was wrong more fossils were found. This time they were like archaeopteryx with full flight feathers and covered bodies but some of these had lost the lizard-like tail and were evolving beaks. It was theorized these earliest of birds were gliders who lived in the trees and caught prey far above the ground. However when biologists started to study bird flight from various angles they noticed something strange. Flighted birds did not flap their wings up and down as most would have hypothesized. Instead they made a strange figure eight-like movement with their wings, almost as if they were swimming through the air. This is what gave them maximum lift. It wasn't long before paleontologists realized this would have been the same movement a theropod would make if it were grasping prey with its fierce claws and long arms. Flight it seems was something of a happy accident.

So now the dinosaur to bird theory is again in popular favor where it always belonged. Instead of being an outdated idea it's an idea that's being expanded as new questions arise. For example, how and why did down feathers evolve into stiff feathers? The jury is still out as paleontologists bicker quietly amongst themselves. Someday the public may know where the truth lies.

If you found this article interesting try some others written by Theophanes:

Four-Winged Dinosaur Enters Debate Over the Evolution of Flight

Five American Birds that have gone Extinct in the Past 100 Years

Jurassic Chicken: The Resurrection of Dinosaurs

The Strangest Cambrian Creatures Ever Discovered

The Fascinating Truth about the World's Oldest Pests: Cockroaches

Ants: Their History, Life, and Purpose

Olms: Europe's Living Baby Dragons


the-origins-of-the-theory-of-dinosuar-to-bird-evolution

More from this Author:

Blogs:

Catching Marbles - A New England based travel blog

Tales from the Birdello - For all homesteading and farming matters

Deranged Thoughts from a Cluttered Mind - For funny personal anecdotes

FaceBook:

Through the Looking Glass Farm

Typhani Brooks - Artist

Instagram

Twitter

Comments

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 13, 2012:

gingersmaltese I wrote this over two years ago. A lot has changed and I admit I haven't been paying much attention to this or any other subject I've written about for awhile now. Sadly I was letting my Hubs kind of just sit. That being said I don't really know where the guff is coming from with you. I was describing what the animal looked like to people in the 1800's, not what it was classified as today. I have added an extra line to make you happy, stating it is now considered a bird, though I find this to be neither here nor there.

Shelly Noel on March 27, 2012:

Wow u guys are sooo stupid... BTW I actually am home schooled and no i am not a christian and this is so lame... uh yeah so i'm using this info for a reasearch paper and i can't wait to shock all those lil homeschool bitches!!!! HAHAHA!

gingersmaltese from 27597 on June 29, 2011:

You must not realize that modern avian experts acknowledge that Archeopteryx is 100% bird, its simply a member of an extinct family of birds that had teeth. It does not have reptilian features. You might as well as use a turkey as a missing link between dinosaurs and birds.

VivekSri on July 09, 2010:

A blast from the past and that intrigues more, love that one of yours. Good effort. Cheers.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on May 25, 2010:

WEOOOOO!!

UPPER CASE RULES!!!!

I LOVE TO YELL:) :) :) :)

danielle on January 22, 2010:

SUREEEEEEEEEE

daf on September 23, 2009:

wow these commrnts are sooo.... wat the word gay

kimzy on May 06, 2009:

r u sure about that? cuz ur laugh is like a girl! hahhhahhaab sry me hyper

a on April 28, 2009:

no i am a guy

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

u laugh like a girly austin! lol

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

i kno this sucks monkey balls jk lol

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

i kno this sucks monkey balls jk lol

a on April 28, 2009:

i see u to and ya this is lame

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

i see you lol im stupid this is like so lame man lol

a on April 28, 2009:

ha ha ok

danielle hotty on April 28, 2009:

jk jk jk jk jk lol lol lol

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

ok austin we get it lol!!

DANIELLE HOTTY on April 28, 2009:

YA WERE NOT HOMESCHOOLED ND I DON'T CARE WHAT U SAY U LITTLE BEEP

a on April 28, 2009:

ya we were very bored and we are not home schooled

kimzy on April 28, 2009:

ya were don't home school but we do go to a christian scholl and we were very bored! lol

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 27, 2009:

Glad my article has proven amusing fodder for a gaggle of.... let me guess, bored Christian home schoolers? I could delete these comments but I won't... The article stands for itself even with the ridicule of a peanut gallery.

AUSTIN on April 27, 2009:

WHO ARE U GUYS

a on April 27, 2009:

i see you to

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh teacher g2g

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

ya hahhahahhaha lol i see u lol hahahhahahhah

a on April 27, 2009:

ha ha r u done now

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

jk lol

DB on April 27, 2009:

WHO THE HEK IS THAT

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

who is this? aahhhhhhhhhhhhh stalker!!!!!!!!!!!

a on April 27, 2009:

i am doing a hockey puck and it is short

AUSTIN on April 27, 2009:

SO IM I

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

k sweet! lol me dumb i did shoppin for my poem

a on April 27, 2009:

i am done now

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

poem*

DORK %% on April 27, 2009:

DUHHHHHHHH

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

sittin here llo hahhahah

workin on our poe.! lol

a on April 27, 2009:

wat u doin now

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

i kno lol, ya were done

COOL CHICK on April 27, 2009:

YEP I AM SUCKERS

a on April 27, 2009:

no u

best western on April 27, 2009:

WOW KIMMY

ak luver lol on April 27, 2009:

u guys done?

BLONDEY on April 27, 2009:

I KNOW RIGHT HAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAH

BLONDE CHICK on April 27, 2009:

I KNOW RIGHT LOL JEEZE

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

in kno lol were stupid lol

acklug on April 27, 2009:

cool

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

u?

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

we finishes the evolution part we still have the creatiion 1

D>B on April 27, 2009:

NOT VERY MUCH

acklug on April 27, 2009:

how much things u hav

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

YA TEE HEE MWHAHAHHAHAH

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

hi (girly voice) lol

acklug on April 27, 2009:

hi

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

WHAT UP AUSTIIN COOLIOS

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

WHAT UP AUSTIIN COOLIOS

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

hey sup austin k?

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

I KNOW IT SUCKS

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

n2m this is lame man lol

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

N2M U ?

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

hey sup d? hahhahah lol daniellers

DANIELLERS on April 27, 2009:

NICE UM NEED MORE INFO THOUGH STOP SITTIN AROUND

blonde chick on April 27, 2009:

nice information thanksss i needed it

kimzy on April 27, 2009:

lame ans sooo not true man! gosh

shanda on November 18, 2008:

JESUS!!!!!!!!!!!!.....serisously

xox

Emily404 from Washington on September 10, 2008:

I learned about this in my college dinosaur class. Good Information.