The only direct descendant of the dinosaur to survive extinction were those that could fly. Birds evolved from the dinosaur group Theropods and are now thought to be the only living dinosaur descendants. When you eat a chicken you are eating a modern day dinosaur.
It is easier to imagine this trace of the past when you look at pelicans. They have a prehistoric look about them for good reason. The first pelican is believed to have appeared 100 million years ago reaching the peak of their diversity 65 – 57 million years ago when their were around 57 species. Today there are only 5 – 8 species left. 30 million years ago the giant pelican existed. What a sight that would have been. The largest now is 1.8 metres long with a wingspan of 3 metres. They are light because their bones are full of air and this prevents them from diving to catch fish. The only one that dives is the American brown pelican which launches itself from a height of 20 metres and hits the water at a speed of 65 kpm.
The pelican beak which is the longest of any living bird, is well known for its sac which it uses for fishing allowing it to scoop up its food, get rid of the water before swallowing its meal. A well-preserved 30 million year old fossil pelican found in the Luberon region of France shows the pelican has changed little in that time.
This lack of change is put down to the fact that the beak has reached an evolutionary point that is optimum for either flight or eating or both and as it is a successful trait it has survived over time. Pelicans are truly a trace of the past.
In response to Paula’s Thursday Special.