Understanding the Relationship Between Dinosaurs and Birds
Did you ever think you could see or hear dinosaurs in the Lake Region of New Hampshire? This year you can, because five gigantic, animatronic dinosaurs are on display at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center through September 30. But the truth is, dinosaurs have been here all along.
Modern birds are descended from a group of two-legged dinosaurs known as theropods, a family that includes the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex as well as its smaller, more bird-like cousins, the velociraptors. If you have heard that modern birds are related to dinosaurs, this is, in fact, myth. Birds are not related to dinosaurs because birds are dinosaurs.
Small size is generally a requirement for flight, and scientists suspect this adaptation evolved before other flight innovations. Other marked similarities between dinosaurs and modern birds include their breathing systems, relatively light bones, scaly feet, and reproduction through the laying of eggs.
Velociraptors didn’t shrivel into little songbirds overnight, and scientists will never know exactly when and how this transformation from dinosaurs to birds occurred. Fossil evidence suggests that the evolution of birds started some 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period and spanned millions of years. The classic features characterizing modern birds appeared one at a time, starting with bipedal locomotion, more complex feathers, wishbones, and eventually, wings.
Archaeopteryx, one of the first feathered dinosaurs, is an example of a transitional fossil, or one with features suggesting an intermediate stage between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds. Another feathered dinosaur, Deinonychus, used large claws to catch its prey, much like modern raptors. See the similarities for yourself at Dinosaurs Alive! on the live animal exhibit trail at the Science Center, where a handful of dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex and Deinonychus, join a selection of modern raptors, offering a glimpse into the evolutionary process.
Dinosaurs Alive! is on display at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center through the end of September. The Science Center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with the last trail admission at 3:30 p.m. Learn more at nhnature.org.