Birds are baby dinosaurs

Just a quick squee over something from the recent crop 😀

Paper: Bhullar BAS et al. (2012) Birds have paedomorphic dinosaur skulls. Nature advance online publication 27/05/2012, doi:10.1038/nature11146

New body forms often seem to evolve by tweaking the timing of developmental events. For example, axolotls are salamanders that become mature without ever losing larval traits such as gills, and many things about adult humans can be interpreted as retentions of baby ape characteristics. Now a new study in Nature argues that birds’ characteristic skull shape – big-brained, big-eyed, and usually small-snouted compared to their dinosaurian relatives – are similarly leftovers from dinosaur childhood. The team collected various skull measurements from young and adults of birds, non-avian dinosaurs, alligators and the early Triassic reptile Euparkeria, a distant cousin of both alligators and dinosaurs. When they analysed the variation in the data, they found that the skull of all of these animals changes in similar ways as they mature. However, adult dinosaurs more closely related to birds grouped with embryos and youngsters of more distant bird relatives, and modern birds were even further on the “baby” side of the diagram. Thus, it seems that the origin of birds was marked by the adoption of increasingly babylike faces. No wonder some of these feathery bastards are so disarmingly cute! (Blue tit above by Maximilian Dorsch, Wikimedia Commons)

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