Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

This feathery dinosaur probably flew, but not like any bird you know

In 1861, German paleontologist Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer wrote a short paper about a fossil so unusual he first thought it was a fake. What appeared to be a bird feather was pressed into 150-million-year-old limestone. Von Meyer labeled it Archaeopteryx, meaning old wing, and a full skeleton was found shortly thereafter.

The bones, discovered two years after Charles Darwin published his "On the Origin of Species," revealed a path to modern birds from their prehistoric ancestors. This discovery was a hint of a revelation to come much later: Birds are living dinosaurs.

During the next 150-plus years, paleontologists discovered 10 more Archaeopteryx skeletons. A picture of the creature emerged, of a dinosaur the size of a crow, weighing little more than a pound and covered in plumage. But feathers, as the penguin and ostrich know, do not necessarily mean flight.

A new report in Nature Communications suggests that Archaeopteryx probably flapped through the air. The dinosaur did so unlike any bird flying today. Archaeopteryx used more shoulder action, the authors of the new report say: Imagine something like a butterfly stroke, according to Dennis Voeten, a researcher at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France and the study’s lead author.

Read More: Dade City museum lands ‘Hometown Teams’ exhibit from the Smithsonian

Not everything that looks like a bird was a bird, especially in the Jurassic period. Recent discoveries have pushed Archaeopteryx away from its perch as a transitional dinosaur-to-bird fossil - there is now a crowd of finely feathered dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx was probably not, Voeten said, a direct tie to sparrows and ostriches but a member of an offshoot lineage.

As scientists have probed Archaeopteryx’s family tree, they also questioned its ability to fly. In the second half of the last century, two positions emerged. One camp said, yes, Archaeopteryx flapped its way off the ground. The other camp said, no, Archaeopteryx scrabbled up trees using its clawed wings, then let go and sailed to the ground like a sugar glider. And a few paleontologists suggested other ideas: Perhaps Archaeopteryx was in the process of losing its flight ability, not gaining it.

In the new study, Voeten and his colleagues probed Archaeopteryx fossils using a synchrotron - a powerful source of radiation. The concept is similar to an X-ray, but your dentist’s X-ray machine would fail to distinguish fossilized skeletons from the background rock. A synchrotron beam is much more sensitive.

Bones, Voeten pointed out, record our daily stress. "The right upper arm bone of a professional tennis player is thicker than the left upper arm bone," he said. Likewise, the stress of flying reshapes the wing bones in modern birds. He decided to look for similar evidence in Archaeopteryx.

The study authors examined cross-sections of the Archaeopteryx bones and compared these structures to bones in flying birds, flightless birds, other dinosaurs and modern crocodilians. The Archaeopteryx bone characteristics closely resembled what Voeten called "burst fliers." These are birds like pheasants, roadrunners and turkeys - animals comfortable on the ground but capable of taking flight with a snap of the wings. The study moves Archaeopteryx from a potential flying animal to a probable one, he concluded.

Still, it did not fly like a pheasant. "The modern bird has a very nifty pulley system," Voeten said. The muscle groups that move bird wings up and down are attached at the sternum, like the wheel of a pulley. But if you flap your arms to mimic a bird, you use muscles that are anchored at the chest and shoulders. Archaeopteryx wings were attached like our arms, with no chest pulley. "We’re sure that it’s incapable of flying like a modern bird does," he said.

Voeten expects that the new study will attract Archaeopteryx flight critics and says, "I warmly welcome them." He is not beholden to the idea Archaeopteryx could fly, he said. "This is a very famous, notorious debate that I am entering in as a new guy."

Comments
Suspect identified, video released in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

Suspect identified, video released in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

PLANT CITY — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has identified the suspect in a string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City.Deputies are searching for Majar L. Jones, 43, of Orlando.Jones may still be in a stolen 2002 green Ford F-150 with...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

Bill Cosby convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

NORRISTOWN — Bill Cosby was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting a woman in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era, completing the spectacular late-life downfall of a comedian who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV s...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
A Trump supporter wearing a MAGA hat said a bar refused to serve him. A judge said they were allowed to

A Trump supporter wearing a MAGA hat said a bar refused to serve him. A judge said they were allowed to

A Philadelphia accountant lost his lawsuit against a Manhattan bar that is accused of kicking him out after he walked in wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap. Greg Piatek, 31, sued The Happiest Hour bar in New York’s West Village for unspecified ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Valdes-Scantling gives his heart, soul and back to USF

Valdes-Scantling gives his heart, soul and back to USF

Though his career at USF ended only four months ago, rangy WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling already is giving back to his alma mater.By giving it his back.Valdes-Scantling, projected as a Saturday selection in this weekend's NFL draft, tweeted a photo sho...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mike Pompeo narrowly confirmed to be secretary of state

Mike Pompeo narrowly confirmed to be secretary of state

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly confirmed Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state on Thursday, clearing the path for him to take over as the top U.S. diplomat just as President Donald Trump faces high-risk moments on Iran and North Korea.Pompeo, the ou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Almost half of all homes for sale in Tampa Bay are unaffordable for first-time buyers

Almost half of all homes for sale in Tampa Bay are unaffordable for first-time buyers

Times Staff WriterAlmost half of all homes on the market in the Tampa Bay area are unaffordable for many buyers. According to Zillow, 48.7 percent of homes for sale are "high-end --- more than $348,0000 in Tampa Bay -- while just 20.5 percent are "l...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

GAINESVILLE — A 55-year-old Florida man is accused of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend and setting her on fire.Gainesville police arrest report says Roosevelt Kitchen was charged with attempted murder. He was being held Thursday on a $1 million bon...
Updated: 1 hour ago
2018 NFL draft: How Saquon Barkley could fall to the Bucs and why they shouldn’t take him

2018 NFL draft: How Saquon Barkley could fall to the Bucs and why they shouldn’t take him

There is "mounting belief" in NFL circles that the Browns are going to choose quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick tonight, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.If that happens, that increases the likelihood of running back Saquon Bark...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecast in first quarter

TAMPA — Growing sales at Outback Steakhouse have once again led parent company Bloomin’ Brands to beat Wall Street’s expectations, the latest quarterly report shows.But the Tampa-based restaurant group’s other chains are failing to keep up. Bloomin’ ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

Focus crossover and Mustang will be only Ford sedans sold in North American dealerships

DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it will shed most of its North American car lineup as part of broad plan to save money and make the company more competitive in a fast-changing marketplace.The changes include getting rid of all cars in...
Updated: 2 hours ago