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Wind Tunnel Testing Sheds Light on Flying Dinosaurs

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The Microraptor lived about 130 million years ago and is believed to be a precursor to today's birds. (Via <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cinaflox/">Flickr Creative Commons</a>)

The Microraptor lived about 130 million years ago and is believed to be a precursor to today's birds. (Via <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cinaflox/">Flickr Creative Commons</a>)

Wind tunnel testing of a feathered dinosaur model adds evidence to the theory that modern day birds evolved from ancient reptiles.

Scientists at the University of Southampton in England built a full-scale, anatomically correct model of a Microraptor, a five-winged creature that lived in the early Cretaceous period about 130 million years ago. The dinosaur is believed to be precursor to birds.

The Microraptor is believed to be the first two-footed dinosaur to have feathers on its body, which could have provided lift during brief gliding or flight.

The wind tunnel tests revealed that the Microraptor was a good glider, but likely spent most of its time on the ground foraging. Still, the creature was probably able to climb high enough to glide around 100 meters, the scientists say.

Some scientists had wondered if the position and orientation of the Microraptor’s legs and wing shape could have impeded possible flight, but the testing revealed it not to be a factor.

"Microraptor did not require a sophisticated, 'modern' wing morphology [shape] to undertake effective glides," according to the paper, published in Nature Communications. “Symmetric feathers first evolved in dinosaurs for non-aerodynamic functions, later being adapted to form lifting surfaces."

Here's a video showing the wind tunnel testing:

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