STL Science Center

STL Science Center

26 September 2017

Of Flying Size

Dromaeosaurs are closely related to birds and research concerning dromaeosaurs and birds sometimes inform one another and other times are conducted in concert with one another. An interesting paper that crosses that boundary and discusses Mahakala and its implications on the evolutionary history of birds is Turner, et al. 2007. This paper describes and names the fossil remains of Mahakala omnogovae, previously known only as IGM 100/1033, and includes high resolution photographs of the known cranium and portions of the postcranial skeleton that contain important characters recognized as "paravian". The clade Paraves is defined by possessing characters typical of dinosaurs more closely related to birds than oviraptors, the theropod outgroup to Paraves. Possibly the most interesting aspect of this description paper is the portion of the paper following the description that discusses the diminutive size of Mahakala and the implications of the size and characters of the animal on the evolution of birds and avian dinosaurs before the evolution of powered flight.

A second paper worth reading today is the longer anatomical description of Mahakala published by Turner, et al. in 2011. This updated and more rigorous anatomical description does not single out novel characteristics of the animal like the first paper did; the shorter description is in part a victim of its appearance in the shorter format of a Science article. This longer version is 68 pages and uses every page to share high resolution images of single elements of the known skeleton one at a time as it describes each. More need not be said to describe the 2011 description of Mahakala because it delivers on exactly that; pure detailed description that vividly shows what this fossil looks like and its complete (as we know it) anatomy.

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