Modern birds retain the physical characteristics of baby dinosaurs, according to a newÂ Nature study that found birds are even more closely related to dinos than previously thought.
Depending on the non-avian dinosaur and bird compared, that might be hard to believe. A toothy, angry reconstruction of Tyrannosaurus rex, for example, on first glance looks little like a common garden blue jay.
When researchers go beyond the surface to the tissue and skull levels, however, the similarities become more obvious.
Harvard University’s Arkhat Abzhanov, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, and Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a Ph.D. student in Abzhanov laboratory and the first author of the study, did just that and found evidence that the evolution of birds is the result of a drastic change in how dinosaurs developed. Rather than take years to reach sexual maturity, as many dinosaurs did, birds sped up the clock (some species take as little as 12 weeks to mature), allowing them to lock into their baby dinosaur look.
“What is interesting about this research is the way it illustrates evolution as a developmental phenomenon,” Abzhanov was quoted as saying in a press release. “By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird â€“- an entirely new creature â€“- and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of landÂ vertebrates on the planet.”