Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There

A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There
Caroline Dent

This article, written by Carl Zimmer of the New York Times, is about questioning ideas and discoveries of the past.
The article is about an extinct animal called an Elephant Bird. It was the heaviest bird species that have ever lived, weighing up to 600 pound and being almost 9 feet tall. It also, due to its monstrous size, had wings but could not fly. These creatures are generally unknown to scientists, but it can be assumed that they went extinct when earth became human- dominated. A special interest was put into these birds, because they were such an enigma to all people. Until more recently, the only information they could find of these birds was from bones and fragments of their eggshells, and now they have done a more extensive study on the DNA of these birds. From these tests they discovered that the closest living relative of the elephant bird was a 6- pound bird called the Kiwi bird that lives 7,000 miles away in New Zealand, and it made people even more curious about the elephant bird and all flightless birds, or ratites. They are spread out on different continents and the cause was assumed to be because of the continental drift, that is, until recently. Scientists, especially a scientist named Dr. Cooper, have gone farther into looking into the DNA of ratites, especially the elephant bird and another extinct bird called a Moa. When DNA was from the moa was found, it became clear that the closest living relative of a Moa bird was a bird, called a tinamou, and was a flying bird, as opposed to a ratite. This new information made scientist wonder if it is possible that all flightless birds were once able to fly and they lost the ability through evolution. With the new technology scientists were able to learn that the elephant bird when extinct 50 million years ago, and the continent was already separated at that time. Then, it became clear that there is no way to get from Madagascar, the home of the Elephant Bird, to New Zealand without flying over an ocean, disproving the theory of continental drift, for this particular case, and making people think that elephant birds also evolved from birds that used to be able to fly.
This is relevant to today because of how new technology is able to advance science. With new discoveries, theories that were thought to be true are proven in correct and what people think of the world becomes more accurate. It allows people to have a better understanding of what is happening and it lets science become more and more correct as time goes on.
This article was very good because it gave a thorough amount of background information and it explained everything very clearly. The only issue I had with it was it was more about the information side of it rather than the actual science side. Still, the article was very interesting.

Zimmer, Carl. "A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There." The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 May 2014. Web. 22 May 2014.



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