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Chickens model how theropod dinosaurs walked

A recent study was published investigating how non-avian theropod dinosaurs may have stood/walked by studying the effects of tail structures emulating fleshy tails in a chicken (avian theropod) model. The chicks were raised to adulthood under experimental conditions, with a natural control group, a weight-control (in which a weight equivalent to that of the prosthetic tail was kept over the natural centre of mass), and an experimental group with added tail. The tails were made of a dowel affixed to a clay sleeve mounted as a continuation of the pelvic girdle and caudal vertebra; the tails were replaced as the chicks aged to match their changing size/weight. Otherwise, the birds were kept in identical, controlled conditions.

The results, while they should be interpreted with caution, are interesting. With the addition of an extended tail, there was a shift in the bird’s centre of mass, resulting in a change in resting and locomotory posture. The experimental birds showed a more vertical leg orientation, and a shift from a birdy knee-powered gait to a dinosaury hip-powered gait.
Also of interest is that the femur length was increased in the experimental birds, though cross-sectional diameter remained the same. They interpret this as being a result of reduced torsional stresses due to the more vertical femoral orientation, and somewhat mirrors femur length ratios seen in non-avian theropod fossils. The result is interesting too, partially in revealing how developmental differences can influence individual condition, and bone growth rates.

Modern bird limb and girdle morphology do differ from those of their extinct relatives, however, and the results should be approached with caution. The sample size was also fairly small, so the statistical significance should likewise be regarded with some skepticism. All the same, it’s an interesting exploration into the subject, with some neat findings.

Give the paper a read, it’s short.

Grossi, B., Iriarte-Diaz, J., Larach, O., Canals, M. and Vasquez, R.A. 2014. Walking like dinosaurs: Chichens with artificial tails provide clues about non-avian theropod locomotion. PLOS One 9(2): DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088458
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