Sticking plungers to chickens’ butts… you know, for science!
Chickens and other birds are modern relatives of non-avian theropods, a large order of dinosaurs that contains Tyrannosaurus rex, raptors (like Deinonychus), and other primarily bipedal reptilian beasts. They stood mostly on their two rear legs and used massive muscular tails for balance:
They weren’t all big monsters, though. There were also cute little theropods like these guys:
If you need help keeping your dino-groups straight, contrast theropods with sauropods, which include these large, long-necked, four-on-the-floor herbivores:
There’s many more sub-orders of dinosaurs, find out where more of your favorites fall on this Wikipedia page.
Seeing as chickens and their relative are the closest living thing to theropod dinosaurs, a group of biologists thought they’d be a great model to study how T. rex and friends walked. The only problem is that chickens don’t have the long tails that their dino ancestors carried around.
Solution? Stick one on and film ‘em!
The addition of a plunger-butt tail affected the bird’s center of mass and its gait, as well as where it held its bones during standing and walking. You can read more about the research at io9, or check out the original paper (open access) at PLOS One.
Previously: Check out a great TED-Ed video about the evolution of feathers in dinosaurs, narrated by Carl Zimmer.