This week's podcast of the BBC's Science in Action includes a section by Rory Galloway (
18:30) covering the Dinosaurs of China exhibit currently hosted by Wollaton Hal at the University of Nottingham, and includes an interview with curator Dr. Adam Smith.
The exhibit is of highly detailed dinosaur fossils from Liaoning, China where detailed feather structures were well preserved and have been analyzed in great detail.
One section caught my attention:
Rory Galloway: "The similarity between dinosaurs and birds was far more than superficial though. Eventually a branch of small, theropod dynosaurs evolved into the birds that fly around today. But curator Adam Smith says, if we concentrate on flight alone, it gets quite difficult to know exactly which branch of the dinosaurs actually became our birds."
Adam Smith: "Flight is really important and that’s why it evolves many times. Some of the earliest flying dinosaurs, such as the microraptor actually had four wings, not two."
The Wikipedia article on the Microraptor is quite long and includes a lengthy, technical discussion on just how these four wings might have been used. It seems that it is (currently) generally believed that these dinosaurs had the capability of powered flight, and that they could actually take off from the ground, rather than climb trees, jump, and simply glide.
This is with four wings.
There are many variety of insects with four wings and the two pair are used in a variety of different ways. But these dinosaurs are much larger, of the order of a kilogram.
Question: Have there been any complete simulations of the mechanics of four-winged dinosaur flight, showing how the wings would have been used to take off from the ground and gain altitude? A movie or animation of the coordinated flapping of the front versus rear pair of wings would be great. These days the numerical models and computing power are within reach, but it would still be a substantial effort, so I'm not sure if this has been done yet or not.
I'm assuming that this is not currently believed to be the branch of dinosaur that eventually evolved into modern birds, but it's a fascinating branch nonetheless.
below: from here.