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Science

Dinosaur Brains Flight-Ready Long Before They Took To the Air 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-your-mind-right dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Dinosaurs evolved the brain power for flight long before they took to the air, new evidence presented in the journal Nature suggests. Contrary to the cliche, a 'bird brain' describes a relatively enlarged brain with the capacity required for flight. However, based on high-resolution X-ray computed tomographic (CT) scans, researchers found that at least a few non-avian dinosaurs had brains as large or larger than Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest known birds, indicating that some dinosaurs already suspected of flight capability would have had the neurological tools to do so."
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Dinosaur Brains Flight-Ready Long Before They Took To the Air

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  • Does the article discuss (or does anybody more familiar with today's dinosaurs, not the ones that they thought existed back when I was a kid, most of which seem to have been revised or eliminated, know) if the 'flight-capable' cranial capacities occurred in dinosaurs that, while not capable of flying, had enough pseudo-wing structure available that assorted flight-like stabilization and assisted locomotion strategies would be available, or is the conclusion that correlation between inferred brain structure

    • Does the article discuss (or does anybody more familiar with today's dinosaurs, not the ones that they thought existed back when I was a kid, most of which seem to have been revised or eliminated, know) if the 'flight-capable' cranial capacities occurred in dinosaurs that, while not capable of flying, had enough pseudo-wing structure available that assorted flight-like stabilization and assisted locomotion strategies would be available, or is the conclusion that correlation between inferred brain structure and flight capabilities is surprisingly weak?

      Surprisingly weak is my guess. (This seems generally true of so many theories pushed into the mainstream press these days). Phrenology revisited.

      Flight may well have been preceded by centuries of hopping around in tree tops or cliff sides, and gliding down (like "flying" squirrels) [onionstatic.com] thereby selecting for those capable of developing mental models of 3D space, and processing not necessary for ground animals. That life style would also favor those animals with lighter bodies, flattened tails and grasping claws.

      • by sylvandb (308927)

        Exactly what I was thinking. Is a flying squirrel similarly adapted today?

        Or is this supposedly flight enhanced brain just the ability to visualize and process one's movements in a 3d space significantly larger than one's own body size?

        If so, it might be nothing more than the ability to conceive/visualize converging trajectories beyond the immediate reach of teeth and claws. Typical predator pursuit behavior, in other words.

  • i bet hunting other animals to kill and eat them requires bigger brains than simply standing around and eating grass or leaves. i mean not like the vegesaurians want to be killed and eaten

    • by DexterIsADog (2954149) on Monday August 05, 2013 @09:54AM (#44477157)
      "How much intelligence do you need to sneak up on a leaf?"
      • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday August 05, 2013 @10:37AM (#44477695) Journal

        "How much intelligence do you need to sneak up on a leaf?"

        To sneak up on a leaf? Not much. To avoid getting eaten by a lion while you're sneaking up on a leaf? Quite a bit more apparently.

        The African buffalo is reportedly rather more intelligent than you might suspect. There are numerous reports of communication, team work and even engaging in vindictive group behaviour like pursuing lions and killing lion cubs.

    • by Feyshtey (1523799)
      How long will a species survive without the ability to detect and evade predators?
      • I don't know. I can't ask the grass, zooplankton, krill, or any of the large number of bacteria that spread through being eaten.

  • Posted last week.
  • Hummingbird brains are tiny yet they're probably the best acrobatic flyers the bird world has. Geese have much larger brains but they're as dumb as hell compared to the highly intelligent crow family.

    • by anss123 (985305) on Monday August 05, 2013 @09:46AM (#44477073)
      It's probably brain to body size.

      The Neanderthals had bigger brains than us (and so does elephants), but our brains are larger compared to our bodies.
      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Yes, you need a certain amount of motor-control brain, and the more muscle you have, the more mass you need for motor control. That's why it is not impressive that a giraffe has a bigger brain than a rhesus monkey. Or, similarly, that a human has 4-5 times less brain mass than an elephant.

  • by JustOK (667959) on Monday August 05, 2013 @09:37AM (#44476933) Journal

    The brains allowed them to stand in long lines waiting for their genitals to be groped, and then subject to horrible service and food?

    • The brains allowed them to stand in long lines waiting for their genitals to be groped, and then subject to horrible service and food?

      They were smart enough to fly under their own power, thus avoiding the above.

    • The brains allowed them to stand in long lines waiting for their genitals to be groped, and then subject to horrible service and food?

      No, you're thinking McDonald's.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Monday August 05, 2013 @09:50AM (#44477115) Homepage

    researchers found that at least a few non-avian dinosaurs had brains as large or larger than Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest known birds, indicating that some dinosaurs already suspected of flight capability would have had the neurological tools to do so.

    So if something has a brain bigger than something that we know can fly, it could probably learn to fly too if you stuck wings on it? T. Rex brains were larger than humans', but I wouldn't fancy one's chances at beating me at Streetfighter II.

    In the interests of balance and reason, I should say that I'm going to assume we're missing out on some key facts thanks to some dumbed-down reporting, not because the researchers aren't doing proper science.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Umm... yes? I bet that things that fly need to be capible of flight before they can fly. Is this an article to weed out the illogical among us or something?

  • I seem to remember being taught there weren't any flying dinosaurs.
    Pterodactyl, Pteranodon, etc, weren't dinosaurs, they were reptiles.

    Never studied it intensely, so it could be a matter of details though.

    • I seem to remember being taught there weren't any flying dinosaurs. Pterodactyl, Pteranodon, etc, weren't dinosaurs, they were reptiles.

      Never studied it intensely, so it could be a matter of details though.

      There were flying dinosaurs. In fact, there still are flying dinosaurs. The ones that still exist are commonly referred to as "birds". They are theropods.

    • Funny, I was kinda taught the opposite, that Pterodactyls were "flying Dinosaurs" but "completely unrelated to Birds" who were "entirely different" from Dinosaurs.

      Turned out that a combination of my teachers not actually being that on-it, and the movement of science over the last 30-35 years, has meant I've had to relearn a lot of stuff that's turned out to be completely opposite to what I was taught.

      Birds? Those are direct descendents of dinosaurs. Some even consider them "living" dinosaurs. There wer

    • by Smauler (915644)

      The "reptile" class is a pretty crappy one... it's basically just a catch all for vertebrates that aren't something else. For example, crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to snakes or lizards. All of the aforementioned along with dinosaurs are more closely related to each other than they are to turtles (though this is coming under increased scrutiny - there are calls to move turtles back to diapsida).

      Basically, our groups are a little crap, confused and vague, and dividing species

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just look at crows. Pound for pound they're some of the smartest and most capable animals around. Total grey matter is nice... but having light, efficient cognitive processes is critical for staying in the air on a tight weight budget.

  • by OneAhead (1495535) on Monday August 05, 2013 @12:36PM (#44478871)
    The MSNBC journalist is reading way, way too much from the Nature paper. All the latter (and its cited sources) say is that a large brain is thought to be a prerequisite for flight, and that the overall brain morphology found in birds is also found in dinosaurs. The journalist implicitly assumes that this brain morphology has evolved for flight, but this is not a given. Bats have a different brain morphology (though there are some similarities) and are quite nimble fliers. Also, feathers are useful for flight (though bats don't have them), but they're also great for keeping warm (anyone ever tried a feather comforter?), and non-flying dinosaurs had them possibly for that purpose. I'm chalking the present finding in the same column as the feathers: turns out having a large brain with strong and fast spatial visualization ability is useful for other things than flying (who'd have thought, right?), and that avians simply inherited this trait from dinosaurs along with their brain morphology (and undoubtedly fine-tuned it). If anything, the present research adds to the (bat-brain) evidence saying that the overall brain morphology found in birds didn't specifically evolve for the purpose of flight.

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