Tetrapod Zoology

Birds vs planes II

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It’s a sad fact of life that, as long as there are aircraft, and as long as there are birds, there will be collisions between aircraft and birds. I did in fact cover the issue of bird-strikes back in January 2008, but since then I’ve learnt a few new things that I’d like to share.

For the record, I’m not covering this issue – or featuring the various photos you see here – because I regard it as at all amusing or frivolous; quite the contrary. As I said in the 2008 article, bird-strikes pose a serious hazard to aircraft, most typically during landing and takeoff, and they also result in pretty horrible deaths for birds that find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Collisions with cockpits and engines have resulted in numerous emergency landings and crashes. One of the most serious recent incidents occurred in March 2009 when a US Airways Airbus A320 ditched in the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of geese. Expert flying by the pilot ensured by all 155 crew and passengers survived. On other occasions, the people involved haven’t been so lucky. As just one example, 62 people died in October 1960 when an airliner in Boston (Mass.) ingested a flock of starlings, lost power and crashed. In recent years photographers have been able to capture the moments when the engines of large aircraft have ingested birds such as starlings [one example here].

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Turning to small aircraft, another 2009 case that got a lot of news happened in San Diego at the Red Bull Air Race. As you can see from the photos above (yes, these are genuine: not photoshopped), a very unfortunate Brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis flew directly in front of Hannes Arch’s plane and was literally shredded to bits. There are, of course, many, many, many other cases (a selection of often fairly nasty pics can be seen here). What may well be the very earliest photographed case of bird-strike was discovered recently in the archives of The New York Times. Dating to October 1916, it shows a raptor (apparently still alive) caught on the wires of a French military biplane. I can’t identify the bird – it might be a kite. There’s more information in David Dunlap’s article here.

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I recently got hold of a copy of Frank W. Lane’s Animal Wonderland (the 1962, revised edition). This fascinating little book is basically an idiosyncratic (but brilliant) compilation of weird natural history stories and anecdotes, ranging from anting and piggy-backing behaviour in birds to ‘intelligent’ acts in fish and the collection of apples by hedgehogs. My copy was signed by the author, which makes it an even neater discovery. Anyway, chapter 3 is titled ‘Birds versus aeroplanes’. Lane discussed numerous cases of bird-strike, involving flocks of swans*, geese, lapwings, swallows, herons, ducks, and also individual pigeons, condors, albatrosses, gulls and so on and on.

* Lane makes the point that a group of swan is apparently called a herd, but I’ll stick with flock unless you all shout me down.

But what makes his chapter particularly interesting is that he also discussed cases where birds were not mere ‘innocent bystanders': there are a few cases where birds have deliberately attacked aircraft. Virtually all of the cases involve eagles (though jackdaws, ravens, a falcon and a macaw are also among the aggressors he discussed). In some instances, it seems that the birds were defending nesting territories, and in one of the events the aggressor (a Golden eagle) had been shot at from the plane (an eagle eradication programme, instigated in Texas to protect domestic lambs). However, the other cases are less easily explained. Do they show that some birds, sometimes, harbour aggressive feelings towards some aircraft?

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The photo shown here (from Lane (1962)) shows the cockpit of an RAF single-engine pioneer after it was attacked in December 1960 by a sea-eagle over what was then Malaya. The pilot reported that the eagle attacked talons first: it smashed through the windshield, died, and remained lodged there. According to Lane, H. T. Wilkins described French WWI efforts to train six eagles to attack enemy aircraft. The eagles were first made accustomed to the sound of propellers and gunfire, and were then taught to associate planes with rewards of food. For whatever reason, the scheme never became operational (Lane 1962).

For previous articles on accidental deaths, life-threatening injuries and such, see…

Ref – –

Lane. F. W. 1962. Animal Wonderland. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh and London.

Comments

  1. #1 Dartian
    May 23, 2011

    I’m not covering this issue – or featuring the various photos you see here – because I regard it as at all amusing or frivolous; quite the contrary.

    Potentially disastrous though they are, from a scientist’s point of view, bird – aircraft collisions are also a source of otherwise hard-to-get biological information. For instance, it is because of such a mid-air collision that we know that Old World vultures are able to fly as high as to an altitude of 11 km (Laybourne, 1974).

    I can’t identify the bird – it might be a kite.

    I agree that it’s probably a kite Milvus sp. Based on that photo, can anyone narrow it down to the exact species (Milvus milvus or M. migrans)?

    Reference:

    Laybourne, R.C. 1974. Collision between a vulture and an aircraft at an altitude of 37,000 feet. The Wilson Bulletin 86, 461-462.

  2. #2 Paul
    May 23, 2011

    Interesting.I fly gliders and find myself sharing thermals with common buzzards on several occasions every year. Most of the time they don’t appear to take more than a passing interest in my or other gliders, and don’t seem at all bothered by my presence. I’ve even flown in a thermal with a couple of young (that summer’s brood) birds circling -well spending most of their time chasing each others tails – below while an adult stayed level with me, watching but not behaving in any way aggressively. I’ve even had them join me in a thermal on a few occasions…though normally it’s the other war around as they’re better at finding the best lift (and usually climb past me very quickly when they are in it).

    But I have heard from other pilots that there was one particular buzzard that was resident about 20 miles away that had a habit of “mobbing” gliders that came through its area, particularly if they were low. While I’ve never heard of it actually hitting a glider several pilots got very good views of its talons, and found it’s attacks to be a serious discreation while they were scratching around looking for a decent climb.

    We always wondered what had caused this behavior, had it been scared or felt threatened by a glider or other light aircraft at some time in the past, or whether it just decided for no real reason that gliders must be some sort of large bird that might raid its nest. Never did find out.

  3. #3 Darren Naish
    May 23, 2011

    Thanks for comments. I didn’t mention gliders specifically, but there are several documented ‘attacks’ on gliders by birds. The macaw attack mentioned above (the bird was a free-flying individual that lived at Whipsnade Zoo, UK) involved a glider and there’s a 1987 case where a Wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax attacked a glider at 800 m over the Flinders Range, hospitalising the pilot.

  4. #4 Dartian
    May 23, 2011

    Paul:

    I fly gliders and find myself sharing thermals with common buzzards

    Just to be clear: are you referring to the species Buteo buteo there? (The word ‘buzzard’ may mean different things, depending on which side of the pond you’re from.)

  5. #5 Paul
    May 23, 2011

    Yes, I am referring to Buteo buteo…the good old tourist eagle!

  6. #6 Phillip IV
    May 23, 2011

    What fascinates me about that Dec. 1960 case is the logistics of an eagle intentionally hitting an aircraft, given the speed differences – while the Scottish Aviation Pioneer was a comparatively slow aircraft, it still had a cruising speed of some 200 km/h, or about four times as fast as an eagle.

    The eagle obviously struck it from the side (it couldn’t have come from the front without hitting the propeller), so its flightpath would have to have considered a huge angle of deflection (leading the target) – i.e. the eagle would have had to correctly judge the aircraft’s speed and then aim itself at a point far ahead of the aircraft’s current position to end up intercepting it.

    So we have to assume either that eagles are capable of calculating such interceptions for objects of sizes and speeds that are way beyond their usual prey, or that the pilot did misinterpret the whole incident.

  7. #7 Stephenk
    May 23, 2011

    “…a 1987 case where a Wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax attacked a glider at 800 m over the Flinders Range, hospitalising the pilot…”

    Have you got a reference for that Darren?
    I know of a couple of “attacks”, which may have be accidental collisions. But can’t recall any hospitalisations (was a member of a near Flinders Ranges Gliding club from 1979 till early 2000s). I’ll see if I can dig out any more info. I flew many times with Wedgies, Black Kites and others during that time with no problems.

    Also had an opportunity to watch some European birds (I don’t know which sort) doing a mating flight (I think)
    http://slash.dotat.org/womens-preworlds-2004/sk-28-07-2004.html

  8. #8 Dartian
    May 23, 2011

    Stephenk:

    I know of a couple of “attacks”, which may have be accidental collisions.

    This hardly looks accidental…

  9. #9 Marcus Good
    May 23, 2011

    I think a collective of swans should be called a ballet.

    And, isn’t there a supposed case of a downed plane with massive claw marks which cryptozoologists have tried to connect to “thunderbirds”?

  10. #10 Dartian
    May 23, 2011

    Here is another wedgie vs. paraglider incident.

  11. #11 deerhunter
    May 23, 2011

    [from Darren: sorry, delayed by spam filter]

    I grew up near the Willow Grove Air Base in Southeastern Pennsylvania. This area is part of the same bird migration route that brought down the New York US Airways plane in 2009. Top military brass approved the use of Border Collies back in the mid-90s to help protect Willow Grove Air Base aircraft from bird (geese) strikes. The below article is over 10 yrs old … but still a good read.

    http://articles.philly.com/1998-03-16/news/25743582_1_geese-bird-strikes-eve-marschark

  12. #12 C. M. Kosemen
    May 23, 2011

    What a wonderful book – it should be made available for download as a .pdf (Hint, hint…)

  13. #13 Stephenk
    May 23, 2011

    Dartian,
    I never said they didn’t/wouldn’t attack other things in the sky.

    However, my experience is that I have flown many times with them and not seen significant agressive behaviour (and it sounds like Paul on a different continent has had similar experience).
    The two instances I can easily recollect of bird strike damage to gliders in Sth Aust. were almost identical in nature. Both fatal to the bird and both left significant damage to the glider, which was near the wing tip in both cases. However, nothing really indicates they were anything other than simple collisions.
    Anecdotally I know one pilot who claims to have been attacked numerous times (and in fact was the pilot of one of the damaged gliders). Maybe certain flying styles are prone to be attacked, I don’t know.

    I have heard anecdotal stories of hang gliders being attacked from above, but I have also seen raptors try to get out of the way by folding up their wings and falling, which I have been told is their instinctive escape mechanism. This could explain _some_ reported attacks and seems a plausible explanation for the Pioneer photo that Phillip IV commented on.
    IE if the normal escape mechanism of a large fleeing bird is to drop, what would happen if a noisy machine was coming right at it (but somewhat lower). And what would the pilot of that machine believe was happening if a big raptor was plummeting straight for them?

  14. #14 Lou Jost
    May 23, 2011

    Your discussion of Lane’s book is tantalizing. May I ask what you meant by “piggybacking” in birds? I know some birds are able to carry their young for short distances, and others can swim with their young on their backs, but were there any cases of unrelated birds piggybacking in flight? There are old myths about this, which seem highly unlikely. I’d love to know if there are some arcane observations supporting it. Thanks for the fascinating posts,
    Lou

  15. #15 DMA
    May 23, 2011

    Nice post. I guess it’s possible some birds dislike certain planes, perhaps they see them as competition.

  16. #16 Sheri L. Williamson
    May 23, 2011

    …in one of the events the aggressor (a Golden eagle) had been shot at from the plane (an eagle eradication programme, instigated in Texas to protect domestic lambs).

    …an event commemorated in the song Fallen Eagle by Stephen Stills.

  17. #17 gray Stanback
    May 23, 2011

    Does anyone know what happened to the bird in that third photo?

  18. #18 Art
    May 23, 2011

    I used to know a man who worked on the ‘chicken cannon’ in Virginia. The Navy would fire chickens at airplane sections mounted on a concrete pad to see what a bird strike might do to their aircraft. He reported that your average broiler will penetrate two inches of armored glass and put a scary hole in a helmet worn by a dummy if the closing speed is close to the speed of sound.

    According to him the best part of the job is telling people you shoot chickens out of a cannon. Worse part is cleaning up afterward.

  19. #19 Alan Kellogg
    May 24, 2011

    Birds and aircraft is one thing, but what about bird strikes on ground vehicles?

  20. #20 Adam F
    May 24, 2011

    And what about early bird strikes on pterosaurs?

  21. #21 Nathan Myers
    May 24, 2011

    On the north coast of Oahu, frigate birds routinely play tag with the sailplanes working the ridge updraft. They drop in, just in front of your nose, hold steady for a few seconds, then veer off at a rate you can barely follow, and lead a merry chase. When they tire of it they just disappear over your shoulder. It’s fascinating behavior on several fronts, but particularly as they have learned the precise aeronautical capabilities of the sailplanes.

    Speaking of buzzards… a few years ago my kids got some “rocket balloons”, sausage-shaped balloons with floppy, noisemaker nozzles, that fly entertaining trajectories. After loosing a few, we got a half-dozen redneck buzzards circling low overhead. It happened again a few days later, but not since.

  22. #22 Gareth Dyke
    May 24, 2011

    Our esteemed colleague and pal, Gary Kaiser – author of The Inner Bird – once worked on a contract for the Canadian Government that found him inside a hanger, hurling frozen chickens into aircraft engines. Apparently, he was trying to figure out the optimum engine speed to ‘vapourise’ the birds: safest flight speed when birds were around.

  23. #23 Nathan Myers
    May 24, 2011

    I am going to assume you mean “frozen and then thawed”. I do not like to think of what would happen to an aircraft engine were a still-frozen chicken hurled into it at 300 km/hr.

    There is a story about this being done to the cockpit windscreen of an airliner. Once.

  24. #24 Darren Naish
    May 24, 2011

    Thanks to all for comments. Lou (comment 14) asked about ‘piggybacking’. Lane actually calls it ‘pick-a-back’. In addition to cases of birds riding on large mammals and big walking birds, he wrote about cases where birds have allegedly been seen riding on the backs of others. In flight. These cases don’t involve mobbing (as he said, hummingbirds and various passerines will sometimes grab on to the backs of raptors and other larger birds while seeing them out of their territory), but cases of kinglets riding on the backs of owls. The several cases involve birds seen flying along the eastern coast of England, or across the North Sea. Lane suggested that the kinglets (goldcrests and firecrests) may perhaps have dropped onto the larger birds as a desperate measure resorting from exhaustion. I don’t find the idea completely ridiculous but don’t think that it’s ever been photographed.

    Nathan (comment 23): my dad works in the aviation industry and has told me several stories where non-defrosted bird carcasses were fired at cockpits during testing. The catastrophic results were initially surprising until it was realised that, when someone asked for ‘frozen chickens’, they should have been defrosted first. Sounds like an urban myth but is apparently true.

  25. #25 David Marjanović
    May 24, 2011

    Lou (comment 14) asked about ‘piggybacking’. Lane actually calls it ‘pick-a-back’.

    LOL. That’s a lovely eggcorn. :-)

  26. #26 Dartian
    May 24, 2011

    Stephenk:

    my experience is that I have flown many times with them and not seen significant agressive behaviour

    I don’t think anyone here has suggested that actual attacks by (wedge-tailed) eagles on aircraft/gliders are particularly common. I agree with you that such incidents are rare. But anecdotal evidence clearly suggests that they do occur every now and then, and that their outcomes may potentially be serious injury (if not death) to humans.

    it sounds like Paul on a different continent has had similar experience

    Not quite, as it was with a totally different species, the Eurasian common buzzard Buteo buteo, which is a relatively small-sized raptor (and therefore rather less likely to cause serious physical injury to a human). A huge Australian wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax – never mind a pair of them! – is an entirely different matter. As anyone who’s been reading Tet Zoo regularly knows, wedgies (as well as certain other Aquila eagles) have been recorded to attack and kill surprisingly large mammals on the ground. Surely, then, it’s not beyond the realm of the plausible that wedgies might on extremely rare occasions try their luck with ‘flying’ large mammals too?

    I have also seen raptors try to get out of the way by folding up their wings and falling, which I have been told is their instinctive escape mechanism […] if the normal escape mechanism of a large fleeing bird is to drop, what would happen if a noisy machine was coming right at it (but somewhat lower).

    Firstly: I’m somewhat sceptical of the idea that a large, flying apex-predator eagle, high up in the air, would have such an ‘instinctive escape mechanism’ at all. (What would it have needed to evolve/maintain such a response for? What preys/preyed on a flying wedge-tailed eagle?)

    More importantly: if, as you say, the raptors (I’m presuming that you by that mean wedge-tailed eagles) are well above the aircraft/glider, they surely aren’t trying to ‘get out of the way’ by swooping at it. No, they are either a) playing with you, b) threatening/mobbing you, or c) attempting to physically attack you (possibly with predatory intent). It is, of course, possible that in the process of doing so, they misjudge their flight speeds and/or trajectories and end up colliding with the aircraft (with fatal results for the eagles themselves). But that doesn’t change the fact that they were originally intentionally coming at you, not trying to get away from you.

    Finally, I’m aware of at least one technical publication specifically dealing with wedge-tailed eagle – hang-glider interactions. Unfortunately, I I haven’t seen this paper and don’t have access to it, but the reference is:

    Meredith, P. 1990. Encounters between wedge-tailed eagles and hang gliders. Australian Bird Watcher 13, 153-155.

  27. #27 Bill Bedford
    May 24, 2011

    23 I am going to assume you mean “frozen and then thawed”. I do not like to think of what would happen to an aircraft engine were a still-frozen chicken hurled into it at 300 km/hr.

    My brother used to have a similar job throwing bird carcasses into jet engines at Rolls Royce. He said, through, that there was very little difference in the effect on the engine whether the carcass was frozen or not.

  28. #28 King Crypto-dude Awesome
    May 24, 2011

    What preys/preyed on a flying wedge-tailed eagle?

    Ropens!!!1!

  29. #29 Christopher Taylor
    May 24, 2011

    I am going to assume you mean “frozen and then thawed”. I do not like to think of what would happen to an aircraft engine were a still-frozen chicken hurled into it at 300 km/hr.

    They did this on an episode of that repository of all applied wisdom, Mythbusters*. If I recall correctly, it rather counter-intuitively made no apparent difference to impact force whether the chicken was thawed or not. Unfortunately, I forget what the reason for this was.

    *Well, at least it’s a step up from Brainiacs.

  30. #30 Lou Jost
    May 24, 2011

    Thanks for answering my query, Darren. Fascinating post as always.
    Lou

  31. #31 David Marjanović
    May 25, 2011

    it rather counter-intuitively made no apparent difference to impact force whether the chicken was thawed or not

    The mass, and therefore the kinetic energy, is the same.

    And even at much lower speeds, water behaves much like a solid on impact. What happens when you jump into a swimmingpool from a 3-m tower and land on your belly?

  32. #32 Strangetruther
    May 25, 2011

    20 @Adam F

    And what about early bird strikes on pterosaurs?

    There must have been falcon-equivalents, and we must surely have found them by now. It looks to me like they were volant dromaeosaurs (vodroms) such as Microraptor.

    ———————————

    it rather counter-intuitively made no apparent difference to impact force whether the chicken was thawed or not

    It might take, dunno, five/ten say times as much energy to prize apart frozen chicken flesh than thawed, but the kinetic energy (as Marj says, the same for both) so dwarfs the ‘dismembering energy’ of either that ‘frozen or not’ is unlikely to be very noticeable. There’s an anti-tank weapon that explodes in the air and squirts liquid copper at the tank’s radiator. Sells well I believe.

  33. #33 Adam F
    May 26, 2011

    I seem to remember an Aesop’s fable about a wren who sneaks on the back of an eagle to fly higher than it and win a competition among the birds.

  34. #34 David Marjanović
    May 26, 2011

    There must have been falcon-equivalents, and we must surely have found them by now.

    How about Boluochia and the avisaurids?

  35. #35 Darren Naish
    May 26, 2011

    Why “must there have been” falcon-equivalents? The same tetrapod ecomorphs have not existed throughout the whole of time.

    I can’t see that small dromaeosaurs were falcon-like (that is, they’re unlikely to have been rapid aerial pursuit predators), but stay tuned for data on their diet and lifestyle…

    Boluochia has just been re-evaluated by O’Connor and colleagues. Great paper (it’s a longipterygid): they show that the idea of a hooked bill is erroneous, and hence so (probably) is the raptorial hypothesis. Like other longipterygids, Boluochia probably had a long bill.

  36. #36 Strangetruther
    May 26, 2011

    34 How about Boluochia and the avisaurids

    I have Longipteryx itself down as fulfilling some kind of long-snouted probing role (and I make it a non-enant too). Not much known about the avisaurids.

    35 Why “must there have been” falcon-equivalents?

    Certainty: no more than in anything else in palaeo; but then life is not composed of certainties. Probability: certainly.

    Ж 14:2 “In [historical] disciplines, evidence and demonstration may be probabilistic or qualitative, and rely on complex variously valid world models left in individual minds by diverse experiences.”

    There are vertebrate predators on vertebrates by land, sea and air now, and by land and sea in the Cretaceous. There were vertebrate predators on insects in the air then. In fact many niches were occupied in the Cretaceous that are absent now: multi-ton land predators etc etc. I’d guess falconry had no reason to be omitted, and see no reason for it to be.

    Vodroms are of course different from falcons. But let’s not forget how surprising vodroms are proving to be. Microraptor gui seems to me to have a falcon’s primaries. Although it has a tail that seems to be a dead-weight in the air, it would help a flier change attitude in the air, being purpose-built to confer a high moment of inertia. (People will remember my version of its use in predation I am sure!) The second set of wings at the back could hardly fail to add a potential for extra manoeuvrability. The slashing claws could be used Boudicca style as peregrines sometimes do, or in the alternative friendly squeeze. The long tail might restrict rate of climb and acceleration, but in a diving attack, they wouldn’t matter much. The long tail would aid launching from the ground. I’ve just persuaded myself that M. gui out-falcons a peregrine!

    Vodroms in general may well have occupied a wider range of niches than modern raptors… or perhaps I should say “than modern birds of prey” :-) . (But they might have been unable to carry large loads in their claws.) They held an enviable astonishingly stable and fecund position in evolutionary dynamics, and are the reason modern birds descended from sea-birds. Refutation of vodroms as falcons looks a long way off.

  37. #37 Darren Naish
    May 26, 2011

    Well, whatever. I thought we were supposed to be sceptical of peculiar claims in science. I’m not against the idea that some dromaeosaurs were capable of flight, but imagining that they might be on par with modern falcons is a real stretch.

    And since when do “modern birds [descend] from sea-birds”?

  38. #38 Strangetruther
    May 26, 2011

    Peculiar is good: 2: “…(and the more surprising the better).”

    A step that takes us far from our expectations, if valid, is farther progress than a not-very-surprising step. Deciding it’s valid or not is different form deciding if it’s “peculiar”. Anyway, if we didn’t like “peculiar”, we wouldn’t be talking dinobirds.

    …but imagining that they might be on par with modern falcons is a real stretch.

    Some things today beat anything in the past but dinobirds often violate that. I’d expect something from the mesozoic could outrun an ostrich.

    And since when do “modern birds [descend] from sea-birds”?

    Play with a few principles of resistance to extinction conferred by small size, carnivory, long-range mobility… then guess what kind of animal takes to eating fish. Combine that with the observed niche patterns occupied by pre-moderns (in the K). Then, try to find a believable alternative in the face of all that we know!

    Anyway, everything today comes from “ducks” and “herons” (unless it comes from “tinamous” :-) ). I think you’ll find Chapter 8 interesting.

  39. #39 Cale
    May 26, 2011

    “A step that takes us far from our expectations, if valid, is farther progress than a not-very-surprising step. Deciding it’s valid or not is different form deciding if it’s “peculiar”. Anyway, if we didn’t like “peculiar”, we wouldn’t be talking dinobirds.”

    The thing about dinobirds is, we have fossils of dinosaurs with clearly birdlike limbs and clearly defined feathers- in other words, we have evidence, a large body of it, and that would make ‘dinobirds’, as you call them, not so peculiar.

    Also what the hell’s a vodrom?

  40. #40 Cale
    May 26, 2011

    Strangetruther: Also, your theory about M. Gui ‘out-falconing a falcon’ is…. interesting. I’m racking my brains out trying to figure out how microraptor resembles a falcon in any way except for size. Microraptor is generally reconstructed as an avian ‘biplane’. I’ve seen the peregrine falcon compared to an avian fighter jet. How does a biplane resemble a fighter jet?

  41. #41 Strangetruther
    May 26, 2011

    @Cale 39&40
    It wasn’t me that introduced the term “peculiar” :-) . …though a bird or flying dinosaur with four wings might seem that way!

    And you should be calling them dinobirds too. I didn’t invent the term dino-bird, though I use the unhyphenated version to include all “dinosaurs” and “birds”.

    The best way to introduce a novel-ish term (though I’ve been using it for years) is to define it on its first occurence. So seeking the earliest occurence in a piece of writing might work. If you do that (you can search for it using your browser) you’ll find the definition on this page. Feel free to type 20 characters when 6 or 7 will do if you want though.

    I remember the DML thread entitled by GSP “Biplane terrors of the skies” or some such. That they were described as such doesn’t mean they had to be slow; it just referred to the wing-count. The similarity I referred to was in vertebrates predating other vertebrates in the air, which I believe is the crucial thing about falcons, though bats are eaten by non-falcon raptors, and themselves catch flying vertebrates… and hobby falcons I suspect concentrate on dragonflies except for feeding the young… but it was the air to air non-insect role I meant.

  42. #42 Augray
    May 26, 2011

    I would suggest that Microraptor wasn’t comparable to living falcons as far as their flight abilities are concerned, since Microraptor lacked many of the adaptations for flight possessed by living birds.

  43. #43 Dartian
    May 27, 2011

    Adam:

    I seem to remember an Aesop’s fable about a wren who sneaks on the back of an eagle to fly higher than it and win a competition among the birds.

    In another version of the fable, the small bird is a goldcrest Regulus regulus rather than a wren. (In some languages, the goldcrest’s name actually means ‘king of birds’ or something similar.)

    Strangetruther:

    There must have been falcon-equivalents

    and

    I’ve just persuaded myself that M. gui out-falcons a peregrine!

    Please be careful not to use ‘falcon-like’ and ‘peregrine-like’ interchangeably. Kestrels (for example) are falcons too; there is no objective reason to single out the peregrine as *the* archetypal falcon. In fact, one could even argue that the peregrine is a somewhat atypical member of the Falconidae, at least as far as its dietary habits are concerned. Not all falconids are highly specialised aerial pursuit hunters of birds; many species feed to a large extent on mammals and other terrestrial prey. Personally, I wouldn’t call the peregrine any more typical of falconids than I would call the cheetah typical of felids – I consider both the peregrine and the cheetah to be extreme cases rather than representing the norm in their respective groups.

  44. #44 Darren Naish
    May 27, 2011

    I’ve learnt that kinglets were regarded as sorts of wren in older literature, and in folk classifications: in fact the names ‘Fire-crested wren’ and ‘Golden-crested wren’ were used for firecrests and goldcrests as recently as the early 1900s.

  45. #45 David Marjanović
    May 27, 2011

    Boluochia has just been re-evaluated by O’Connor and colleagues. Great paper (it’s a longipterygid)

    *facepalm*

    I can’t keep up with the dinosaur literature anymore! *howl*

    I’m not terribly surprised, though. I always found it strange that an animal with a toothed premaxilla would evolve a hooked beak.

    Not much known about the avisaurids.

    Have another look at their feet.

    I’d guess falconry had no reason to be omitted, and see no reason for it to be.

    Maybe it simply hadn’t evolved yet. Maybe things like the flight mechanics for it were not yet there.

    But, again, check out the feet of the avisaurids.

    People will remember my version of its use in predation I am sure!

    I don’t. Indeed, I don’t remember that you proposed any hypothesis about dromaeosaurid tails at all. You haven’t visited this blog or Pharyngula for maybe a year.

    Microraptor gui seems to me to have a falcon’s primaries.

    Is that all?

    The second set of wings at the back could hardly fail to add a potential for extra manoeuvrability.

    It could very easily fail to do so. For instance, we still don’t know how the feathers were oriented in life and whether they were mobile.

    Boudicca style

    ?

    The long tail might restrict rate of climb and acceleration, but in a diving attack, they wouldn’t matter much.

    In a diving attack, Microraptor would break all its bones.

    For instance, it has five sacral vertebrae that are only sutured to the ilia, it has separate metatarsals and tarsals, and it has a lot of dorsal vertebrae. Neornithes all have a unitary synsacropelvis that contains 15 vertebrae at minimum, a tarsometatarsus and a tibiotarsus, and extremely few dorsal vertebrae. These are adaptations to — comparatively — hard landings.

    Now, let’s talk about shoulder anatomy and its implications for flight…

    Refutation of vodroms as falcons looks a long way off.

    LOL. Science, ur doin it rong!

    You propose a new hypothesis, you demonstrate that it’s more parsimonious than all alternatives. You carry the burden of evidence. That’s how it works.

    …but imagining that they might be on par with modern falcons is a real stretch.

    Some things today beat anything in the past but dinobirds often violate that. I’d expect something from the mesozoic could outrun an ostrich.

    We’re not talking about metaphysical generalizations, you dimwit! We’re talking about specific animals and their specific anatomy.

    Play with a few principles of resistance to extinction conferred by small size, carnivory, long-range mobility… then guess what kind of animal takes to eating fish. Combine that with the observed niche patterns occupied by pre-moderns (in the K). Then, try to find a believable alternative in the face of all that we know!

    Science, ur stil doin it rong.

    You seem to have forgotten about the entire science of phylogenetics. You cannot use an evolutionary scenario to falsify a phylogenetic hypothesis. You can use a well-tested phylogenetic hypothesis to falsify an evolutionary scenario, not the other way around!

    The first neornithean must have been very similar to tinamous, screamers and galliforms. That’s by far the most parsimonious interpretation of the morphological (paleo- and neontological) and the molecular evidence.

    I think you’ll find Chapter 8 interesting.

    Chapter 8 of what?

    Also what the hell’s a vodrom?

    A term that Strangetruther invented and explained near the beginning of comment 32.

  46. #46 Cale
    May 27, 2011

    Ah. Volant Dromaeosaurs. Shoulda guessed.

    “I remember the DML thread entitled by GSP “Biplane terrors of the skies” or some such. That they were described as such doesn’t mean they had to be slow; it just referred to the wing-count. The similarity I referred to was in vertebrates predating other vertebrates in the air, which I believe is the crucial thing about falcons, though bats are eaten by non-falcon raptors, and themselves catch flying vertebrates… and hobby falcons I suspect concentrate on dragonflies except for feeding the young… but it was the air to air non-insect role I meant.”

    That’s…. plausible? You said you just convinced yourself that Microraptor could ‘out falcon a falcon’ in an earlier post. That implies that Microraptor’s flight capabilities would be equal to a modern peregrine falcon.

    Keeping with the airplane analogy, that suggests that a WWII biplane should be able to keep up with a modern fighter jet (doesn’t matter what kind, all of them are sufficiently advanced to still make the point.)

    I don’t know too much about aeronautics and am only an amateur when it comes to biology, but I’ve always seen the extra wings on a biplane as ‘training wheels’. Forgiving of ‘mistakes’, stable, but not too fast or maneuverable, etc. Once as a kid, after I’d learned to ride a ‘grownup’ bike, I decided to try riding my old one with the training wheels. Damn thing couldn’t take corners at any speed above a crawl and was a real pain in the ass. I believe the same analogy could be extended to flight in birds.

    For my part, I think Microraptor would have likely done alot of hunting on foot or in the trees, and used flight largely as an escape mechanism. Though I must admit, the image of some toothed four winged clawed beastie plummeting out of the sky like a miniature feathered dragon is pretty cool. Would make a great movie scene.

  47. #47 Strangetruther
    May 27, 2011

    @42 Augray

    I would suggest that Microraptor wasn’t comparable to living falcons as far as their flight abilities are concerned, since Microraptor lacked many of the adaptations for flight possessed by living birds.

    Yes, but it implemented flight requirements in different ways, just as bats and insects implement flight requirements differently from birds. Your task is to demonstrate that somewhat alternatively disposed muscles were not present that would have allowed it powered flight. But with so many feathers so perfectly formed and aligned for flight (and present despite completely getting in the way of predation) it would be odd indeed if it couldn’t fly. Many have doubted the Archaeopteryx could fly but the most knowledgeable in aeronautics agree there is no reason it could not, and Microraptor has more heavily boned wings, and a higher total wing area. Not to mention much more robust primaries. Questioning whether dromaeosaurs (and related types) with long wings and big feathers had a proven ability to fly can be stopped now, partly because aeronautical experts think they could, and partly because of Ж 1:1 : “Science is the generation, judging and honing of theories which model (i.e. explain or predict) the best.”
    and 9 : “There are no absolute facts, proofs or truths; outside mathematics at least, they are convenient untruths that can simplify our thinking. Proof needs to demonstrate the impossibility of any competing theory, known or not, of equivalent or superior power, whereas disproof merely requires the presentation of evidence inconsistent with the one theory.”

    = = = = = =

    @43 Dartian
    Yes, falcon is not the same as peregrine, but I was primarily talking about vertebrates catching vertebrates in the air, of which no group is more typical than falcons (in their case in the open air away from trees), even though many do, or even concentrate on, slightly different activities. I do think peregrine-style stooping can be reasonably considered the extremity of falcon-like behaviour, and it is surely the most challenging falcon task. It may not be “typical”, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it hadn’t evolved early in falcon specialisation, and then been lost in most lines. Like cheetahs, falcons tend to have the dark tear-tracks down the face which I suspect is for coping with any tears running down the face at high wind speeds. The darkest such “moustaches” amongst falcons seems to be in the fastest flying ones, but most of them show some traces of it. This suggest to me a stooping ancestry of falcons in general (and no, I don’t want to hear about it not being conclusive evidence!). You don’t need falcon type wings to catch birds in the air, but you do need them for flying really fast. (“Frightful” here…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3mTPEuFcWk&feature=related
    …is claimed to have touched 242mph – fastest I’ve ever seen claimed. = 389k/h)

    I’ve had enough splitting hairs on this one now :-) .

    = = = = = =

    Marjanovic’s comments fall into a number of categories, and as usual the most important is his claim that science = simplicity. It doesn’t. But with his restricted background he simply doesn’t know it, and he’s too arrogant and childish to learn. If simplicity were the sole secret at the heart of generating knowledge, we’d have confirmed it by about 1960. We know an awful lot about the principles (and complications) of generating knowledge, but it seems the few people in the SVP who know anything about it never tell the majority, who of course never listen to procedural wisdom from “outsiders”. Because this is a classic and repeated error in the understanding of science by palaeontologists, I cover it in Sciencepolice rule 2:
    “The worth of a theory depends on such aspects as accuracy, generality, simplicity and the degree to which its implications are genuine predictions (and the more surprising the better).”
    If you don’t believe this and you’re too important to read Popper or Sober, just read up some literature on machine intelligence and automated knowledge generation. But please don’t tell me you disagree since you know 100 palaeontologists who disagree, because the best answer to this often offends.

    Then there’s the category of “other philosophy of science errors”. Dealing with this one first:

    LOL. Science, ur doin it rong!
    You propose a new hypothesis, you demonstrate that it’s more parsimonious than all alternatives. You carry the burden of evidence. That’s how it works.

    No it isn’t. Parsimony (=simplicity, not=science) we’ve already covered. But the “burden” is on those who seek to refute the theory, and if they can’t, and it explains more, then we can accept it as a possibility, hopefully one useful enough to be treated to some extent as a “truth”.

    The second set of wings at the back could hardly fail to add a potential for extra manoeuvrability.

    It could very easily fail to do so. For instance, we still don’t know how the feathers were oriented in life and whether they were mobile.

    The theory is that the rear wings were used for flight, and maybe helped with manoeuvrability. Off this hangs corollaries that their orientation and mobility were suitable. His task is to refute this. But since he doesn’t know if they were or weren’t, he’s in no position to make any contribution.

    There’s also this cladist claptrap:

    You seem to have forgotten about the entire science of phylogenetics. You cannot use an evolutionary scenario to falsify a phylogenetic hypothesis.
    You can use a well-tested phylogenetic hypothesis to falsify an evolutionary scenario, not the other way around!

    Rubbish. This fallacy arises because cladists (by definition) feel that a cladogram (family tree produced by a computer usually guided by pure simplicity) is more valuable “evidence” than anything else. They argue the process makes the best possible use of the evidence; however they don’t realise that there is useful information in the input data to a cladogram that it doesn’t make use of, there is often misleading information input that is does use, and there is useful evidence available (physical impossibilities, ages, geographical isolation etc etc) that doesn’t go into cladograms. Events leave traces in all sorts of places. Patterns of occurrence of fossils in time and space are as useful in reconstructing the past as occurrences of shapes of bones. And typically, cladists adopt their philosophy without getting adequate training in the information sciences beforehand (and most never get it). A good example is Marjanovic’s [nothing at degree level] compared to my MSc in information science, experience in AI, etc etc. And far from “Having forgotten about the entire science of phylogenetics”, I’ve actually implemented my own cladogram generator, using both complete search and a heuristic strategy I devised myself. Marj knows how to load and run PAUP-4.

    We’d know Marj isn’t au fait with understanding info science anyway because he never uses the terms of the science unless they are controls mentioned in the documentation of a cladogram program. But also, his use of “kinetic energy” in a comment to this posting is one of the very few examples I can remember of him using anything like a term from mechanical science…

    This comment of his isn’t very profound:

    In a diving attack, Microraptor would break all its bones.

    All dromaeosaurs were designed to cope with high forces projected through the legs to the foot claws, often while large prey was moving unpredictably and forcefully. We won’t let “all its bones” off scot free since although it’s clearly meant for emphasis, it shows how desperate he’s getting. Obviously it wouldn’t have to break any bones if it only used its speed to catch up with prey. Even stooping peregrines don’t actually impact their prey at the extreme closing speeds they are potentially capable of.

    For instance, [Microraptor] has five sacral vertebrae that are only sutured to the ilia, it has separate metatarsals and tarsals, and it has a lot of dorsal vertebrae. Neornithes all have a unitary synsacropelvis that contains 15 vertebrae at minimum, a tarsometatarsus and a tibiotarsus, and extremely few dorsal vertebrae. These are adaptations to — comparatively — hard landings.

    They are not adaptations to hard landings. Birds in general have thinner leg bones than mammals, particularly for their length, precisely because their wings protect them from hard landings; less volant birds tend to have thicker leg bones. Kangaroos cope with their considerable stresses to their rear limbs with two sacral vertebrae. Stiffness is not always the best adaptation for coping with high impact. A lot of give is very useful – viz the arctometatarsus – which may well be why leg bones remained unfused in dromaeosaurs (even the ones without an arctometatarsus).

    The rest of his comment is mainly childish jibes and claims that he’s unfamiliar with what I’m talking about. It looks like we’ll never cure his childishness, and if he hasn’t bothered to remember what I’ve said years ago, that’s his problem. I think I’ll cease making specific replies to his comments from now on, referring to this one which will probably cover the errors he’s likely to repeat in the future, approximately or exactly.

  48. #48 Augray
    May 27, 2011

    @42 Augray

    I would suggest that Microraptor wasn’t comparable to living falcons as far as their flight abilities are concerned, since Microraptor lacked many of the adaptations for flight possessed by living birds.

    Yes, but it implemented flight requirements in different ways, just as bats and insects implement flight requirements differently from birds.

    And what is your evidence that it implemented flight requirements differently from birds?

    Your task is to demonstrate that somewhat alternatively disposed muscles were not present that would have allowed it powered flight.

    That’s not the way that science works. You don’t get to make things up based on nothing more than wishful thinking. What reasons do you have for thinking that it had “somewhat alternatively disposed muscles”?

    But with so many feathers so perfectly formed and aligned for flight (and present despite completely getting in the way of predation) it would be odd indeed if it couldn’t fly.

    I think we need to be a bit more specific here. Few people doubt that Microraptor was capable of gliding (I can’t think of any off of the the top of my head), but it’s questionable as to whether it was capable of powered flight. And it certainly wasn’t comparable to falcons in its flying abilities.

    Many have doubted the Archaeopteryx could fly but the most knowledgeable in aeronautics agree there is no reason it could not,

    Yes, Archaeopteryx is similar in certain ways to Microraptor, but it certainly couldn’t fly like modern birds, just as Microraptor couldn’t, and here’s why:

    -It lacked an alula, which is used to reduce leading edge wing turbulence during low speed flight.
    -Its metacarpal bones were not fused into a carpometacarpus, as in living birds, which gives the wing more strength.
    -Its ulnare (a carpal bone in the wrist, AKA the cuneiform) was not V-shaped. In living birds this helps keep the wing rigid during the down stroke, preventing it from buckling.
    -Archaeopteryx lacked a triosseal canal in the shoulder for passage of the tendon of the supracoracoideus muscle (which assists in the wing’s upstroke, as well as the rapid reorientation of the wing during the upstroke).
    -In living birds, the position of the acrocoracohumeral ligament prevents dislocation of the shoulder during the upstroke. This is not the situation in Archaeopteryx, where the ligament was situated as it is in crocodiles.
    -The shoulder joint of Archaeopteryx was oriented in such a way so that the wing could not be raised above the horizontal position, which limits thrust.
    -Archaeopteryx lacked an ossified and keeled sternum for the attachment of the flight muscles, a trait possessed by living birds that fly, and so would not have been a very powerful flyer, since there was no solid structure upon which to anchor the flight muscles. The situation is only slightly better in Microraptor, which actually did have an ossified sternum, but not a keeled one.

    and Microraptor has more heavily boned wings, and a higher total wing area. Not to mention much more robust primaries.

    Cite?

    Questioning whether dromaeosaurs (and related types) with long wings and big feathers had a proven ability to fly can be stopped now, partly because aeronautical experts think they could,

    Who? At best, they believe it could glide. No one thinks it could fly like falcons.

    and partly because of ? 1:1 : “Science is the generation, judging and honing of theories which model (i.e. explain or predict) the best.”

    And just what does your theory explain? Nothing but your wishfuil thinking.

    and 9 : “There are no absolute facts, proofs or truths; outside mathematics at least, they are convenient untruths that can simplify our thinking. Proof needs to demonstrate the impossibility of any competing theory, known or not, of equivalent or superior power, whereas disproof merely requires the presentation of evidence inconsistent with the one theory.”

    Are you quoting yourself? Besides, science doesn’t deal with proofs.

  49. #49 Augray
    May 27, 2011

    Strangetruther wrote in 47:

    A lot of give is very useful – viz the arctometatarsus – which may well be why leg bones remained unfused in dromaeosaurs (even the ones without an arctometatarsus).

    Do any dromaeosaurs have an arctometatarsus? If I recall correctly, its absence was one of the reasons Holtz didn’t group dromeaosaurs and troodonts together in his early cladograms.

  50. #50 Cale
    May 27, 2011

    @Augray: You keep saying ‘wishful thinking,’ and that seems pretty spot on. All of Strangetruther’s theories seem to be solely based on what he thinks would be cool.

  51. #51 Albertonykus
    May 28, 2011

    Some basal dromaeosaurids (including Neuquenraptor, Microraptor, and Sinornithosaurus) did have an arctometatarsus of sorts (more precisely, a “subarctometatarsus”). Of course, they were all discovered in the 2000s and late 1990s.

  52. #52 Darren Naish
    May 28, 2011

    Important message for John Jackson (= ‘strangetruther’). I’ll let you say what you like about falcons and microraptors, even though it’s all completely speculative and not in line with a great deal of published research on functional morphology in birds and other maniraptorans, nor in line with the extensive literature on falcon behaviour, morphology and phylogeny. I learnt long ago that arguing with you is not a productive use of time. Anyway, much of your message above is devoted to throwing insults at David Marjanović. If you do this again, I’m banning you, forever.

    I’m also considering deleting the relevant section of your comment (# 47) – would appreciate the thoughts of others on this. You don’t exactly help your argument by slagging off individuals who call you out, or indeed by whining about cladistics and scientific palaeontology in general.

  53. #53 David Marjanović
    May 28, 2011

    Your task is to demonstrate that somewhat alternatively disposed muscles were not present that would have allowed it powered flight. But with so many feathers so perfectly formed and aligned for flight (and present despite completely getting in the way of predation) it would be odd indeed if it couldn’t fly. Many have doubted the Archaeopteryx could fly but the most knowledgeable in aeronautics agree there is no reason it could not

    …but the most knowledgeable in anatomy are not so sure anymore.

    Apparently, you know, Microraptor, Archaeopteryx, and even Confuciusornis were not able to lift the wing above the horizontal.

    For C., this leaves the option of gliding, but A. and probably M. lacked tertiaries — they had a wide gap between the wing and the body.

    AFAIK, no aeronauticists have yet reacted to these discoveries of the last… very few years.

    I lack the knowledge necessary to calculate whether flapping flight is still possible under such conditions, and I fully agree it would be odd if these animals couldn’t fly; but this doesn’t make the mentioned problems go away. They need to be solved before we can come to conclusions.

    “Science is the generation, judging and honing of theories which model (i.e. explain or predict) the best.”

    That’s a bad way to put it, because it doesn’t explain what “best” means.

    I like this definition:

    “As long as you can answer the question if I were wrong, how would I know? all the way down, you’re doing science; as soon as you stop being able to do so, you’re not doing science anymore.”

    Or how about:

    “Falsification and parsimony.”

    BTW, you explain falsification very well in Ж 9.

    Marjanovic’s comments fall into a number of categories, and as usual the most important is his claim that science = simplicity. It doesn’t. But with his restricted background he simply doesn’t know it, and he’s too arrogant and childish to learn.

    1) You’re trying to make me the topic. I’m not the topic. What I said is the topic.

    2) I still don’t understand why you sometimes address people by their surnames alone (which, BTW, you could simply cut & paste, but somehow don’t). Do you mean anything by that? I mean, I’ve never encountered this elsewhere, except on TV, where 19th/early 20th-century English lords address their butlers this way. ~:-|

    3) Background? You are an amateur, an Internet Tough Guy. I have a doctorate in natural sciences. Go find my publications in Google Scholar. :-|

    4) Actually, I think you’re projecting.

    Parsimony (=simplicity, not=science)

    Ockham’s Fucking Razor.

    Enta non sunt multiplicanda super necessitatem.

    That’s why it’s unscientific to assume that Russell’s teapot exists or that there’s an undetectable dragon in Sagan’s garage.

    That’s why Kepler’s heliocentric model (with elliptic orbits) is better than Copernicus’s (with circular orbits and epicycles) — they make the same predictions otherwise.

    That’s also a large part why relativity (where steady linear motion is relative and mass is the same for gravity and inertia) is better than classical physics (where you need to calculate in very different ways depending on whether the magnetic field stands still and the conductor moves through it or the conductor stands still and the magnetic field moves over it — and the results just happen to be the same, inexplicably — and where mass just happens to be identical for gravity and for inertia). Sure, relativity makes accurate predictions where classical physics fails, but that’s not the whole story.

    If you want to go really deep into philosophy, parsimony even underlies falsification! Who guarantees mathematical proofs are actually correct, as opposed to demons messing with everyone’s heads? Who guarantees I’m not the solipsist? Nobody does; Ockham’s Razor shaves all this silliness off.

    But the “burden” is on those who seek to refute the theory

    No.

    I mean, come on! By that argument, the theory of evolution would have been disproved by every single Gish gallop ever! You haven’t thought this through. You just love your speculations too much.

    The theory is that the rear wings were used for flight, and maybe helped with manoeuvrability. Off this hangs corollaries that their orientation and mobility were suitable. His task is to refute this.

    Your task is to refute this. If you try and then fail, then you can publish. It is silly to throw completely untested speculations out there.

    cladists […] feel that a cladogram […] is more valuable “evidence” than anything else.

    *headshake* No. A cladogram is a phylogenetic hypothesis. It is the most parsimonious explanation for the available evidence. The data matrix is a representation of (…a sample of…) the evidence; the cladogram explains the data matrix.

    If you have no idea what you’re talking about, why do you talk about it?

    a cladogram (family tree produced by a computer usually guided by pure simplicity)

    *facepalm*

    Computers aren’t necessary. Hennig calculated all his cladograms by hand. Computers just make it a lot easier.

    You cannot blame phylogenetic hypotheses you dislike on computers. You simply can’t.

    And yes, parsimony is important — parsimony is in fact all we have, because phylogenetic hypotheses are not strictly falsifiable. Strange reversals? Eh, everything can evolve. Inconsistence with stratigraphy or geography? Eh, everyone knows the fossil record is incomplete. If we want to, we can explain everything away in phylogenetics.

    Parsimony is all we have in phylogenetics. Before it was introduced, there was the epoch of phylopessimism: people increasingly realized that there are no absolutely reliable characters, that there is no reliable way to reconstruct a tree by just looking at the fossil record, that there is no way to prove that anything is a direct ancestor of anything else, the trees they drew increasingly contained stippled lines that arose from question marks which sprang up ex nihilo, and the question a professor of mine once asked his supervisor about how to recognize homology was answered by “an experienced morphologist sees that”. Phylogenetics was an art, not a science.

    they don’t realise that there is useful information in the input data to a cladogram that it doesn’t make use of, there is often misleading information input that is does use, and there is useful evidence available (physical impossibilities, ages, geographical isolation etc etc) that doesn’t go into cladograms.

    Of course it can, and sometimes it does. Feel free to do a stratocladistic analysis if you happen to feel that the fossil record of a particular taxon from a particular time is reliable enough. I myself order potentially continuous characters in my analyses, and I even declare some direct transitions impossible.

    By “misleading information input that i[t] does use”, do you mean questionable decisions of primary homology? Of course this happens, and it can be corrected on a case-by-case basis. I think I have found a couple of examples, and I try to correct them in my papers — look up the 2008b and the 2009 ones, or just my thesis (pdf, 324 pp.) as a whole. It doesn’t invalidate the principle of parsimony.

    And far from “Having forgotten about the entire science of phylogenetics”, I’ve actually implemented my own cladogram generator, using both complete search and a heuristic strategy I devised myself.

    That’s nice. I wonder how well it works, though, given your demonstrated lack of knowledge about cladistics.

    Marj knows how to load and run PAUP-4.

    Among other things, yes…

    (Except that technically there is no “PAUP-4″. Swofford being some kind of perfectionist who allegedely wanted to implement maximum likelihood for morphological characters, the latest version of PAUP* is 4.0b10; that’s of course what I use. And yes, the asterisk is part of the name: Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony (* and Other Methods).

    We’d know Marj isn’t au fait with understanding info science anyway because he never uses the terms of the science unless they are controls mentioned in the documentation of a cladogram program. But also, his use of “kinetic energy” in a comment to this posting is one of the very few examples I can remember of him using anything like a term from mechanical science…

    Why would I, when I don’t need to?

    Birds in general have thinner leg bones than mammals, particularly for their length, precisely because their wings protect them from hard landings;

    Isn’t that just because of pneumaticity and maybe for higher bending strength?

    Kangaroos cope with their considerable stresses to their rear limbs with two sacral vertebrae. Stiffness is not always the best adaptation for coping with high impact.

    Kangaroos don’t want to land. They want to bounce off again.

    But do check jerboas out. As I have learned on this blog, they have a tarsometatarsus.

    A lot of give is very useful – viz the arctometatarsus –

    Huh? There’s no give in an arctometatarsus at all (Holtz 1994, 1995, 1999, IIRC). Instead, it functions to transmit most of the stress to the proximal end of mt IV and from there to the lateral side of the lower leg (though not the fibula, of course) (same citations).

    The rest of his comment is mainly childish jibes and claims that he’s unfamiliar with what I’m talking about.

    Demonstrate I’m wrong and you’re familiar with what you’re talking about.

    So far, you’re demonstrating the opposite.

    It looks like we’ll never cure his childishness,

    I hope so!

    Childlike curiosity is necessary for a scientist.

    and if he hasn’t bothered to remember what I’ve said years ago, that’s his problem.

    :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    1) Who do you think you are? How important do you think your speculations are? :-D :-D :-D Really, you don’t even publish!

    2) “Bother” implies that I have photographic memory that I switch off when I want to. I don’t know about you, but I do not, in fact, have photographic memory of any kind. I do not, in fact, remember every Internet discussion I’ve ever had — not even every interesting one. Memory works very differently in different people.

    I think I’ll cease making specific replies to his comments from now on

    You won’t stick to the flounce. Shaker’s Law knows no exceptions.

    Few people doubt that Microraptor was capable of gliding (I can’t think of any off of the the top of my head)

    Well, I’m not quite sure. Its forewings were extremely narrow, so — depending on what the hindwings were like; see below — it would have needed to start at a high speed (jump off very powerfully, or fall rather deep before lift generation took over); there was, most likely, that gap between wing and body; we don’t know how the feathers on the hindlimbs were oriented; and the cylindrical femoral heads and well-developed trochanteric crests strongly limit hindlimb abduction (to use the kinds of technical terms that Strangetruther apparently thinks will lend credibility to whatever I say).

    But I don’t know. I haven’t done any math or built any models. All I can say is that M. was not a very good glider.

    Yes, Archaeopteryx is similar in certain ways to Microraptor, but it certainly couldn’t fly like modern birds, just as Microraptor couldn’t, and here’s why:

    -It lacked an alula, which is used to reduce leading edge wing turbulence during low speed flight.

    Microraptor actually has a kind of one — even though Archie doesn’t.

    -Archaeopteryx lacked a triosseal canal in the shoulder for passage of the tendon of the supracoracoideus muscle (which assists in the wing’s upstroke, as well as the rapid reorientation of the wing during the upstroke).

    True, but bats, pterosaurs, Sapeornis and Confuciusornis share this plesiomorphic condition. Other muscles are available for the upstroke; bats use the good old deltoideus, the other three had huge deltopectoral crests.

    -Archaeopteryx lacked an ossified and keeled sternum for the attachment of the flight muscles, a trait possessed by living birds that fly, and so would not have been a very powerful flyer, since there was no solid structure upon which to anchor the flight muscles. The situation is only slightly better in Microraptor, which actually did have an ossified sternum, but not a keeled one.

    The keel is where the supracoracoideus attaches; the pectoralis extends at most to the base of the keel. A well-developed keel is not found in bats or pterosaurs or Confuciusornis (I forgot if the sternum of Sapeornis is even known); this may well be due to their use of the deltoideus for the upstroke.

    Are you quoting yourself?

    Yes. On his blog, he codified science theory, and now he quotes it as if it were something universal.

    He calls for reading Popper, but doesn’t quote him…

    Do any dromaeosaurs have an arctometatarsus?

    No. Those outside Dromaeosaurinae and Velociraptorinae are subarctometatarsal, though (mt III reaches the tarsus along the whole palmar-to-volar extent of the metatarsus, but is only about half as broad proximally as distally).

    Besides, science doesn’t deal with proofs.

    And if I’m correctly interpreting what Ж 9 implies, it correctly explains why: precisely because proof (verification) would require disproving all alternative explanations, including the unfalsifiable ones (like “it was a random miracle”). The closest thing we have to proof is parsimony.

    Disproof (falsification), in contrast, is possible for many ideas, just as Strangetruther writes, as long as we let parsimony exclude concepts like solipsism.

  54. #54 David Marjanović
    May 28, 2011

    John Jackson (= ‘strangetruther’)

    Huh. Are you sure he’s not Alan Kellogg instead?

    Anyway, much of your message above is devoted to throwing insults at David Marjanović. If you do this again, I’m banning you, forever.

    Why? I can take insults. :-) I have little problem distinguishing what is said from how it is said.

    You don’t exactly help your argument by slagging off individuals who call you out, or indeed by whining about cladistics and scientific palaeontology in general.

    That’s exactly why you should let it all stand: as an object lesson.

    I like PZ’s approach. He lets everything stand, except for spam, stuff by people who are already banned and have come back under another name (which is then automatically also banned), or unimaginable excesses of evil (like posting the meatspace names of pseudonymous people, which also results in immediate bannination); then he leans back, watches the bloodbath (or not, depending on how much spare time he has), and rakes in the ad revenue from the increased traffic (…when the ScienceBorg happen not to forget about it). When a thread reaches 1000 comments, he closes it, and that usually makes the jerks go away even when they’re not banned.

    OK, he sometimes disemvowels people who are about to be banned. But that has become rare in the last few years.

  55. #55 Strangetruther
    May 28, 2011

    @Naish

    much of your message above is devoted to throwing insults

    WHAT INSULTS? Pointing out that someone is talking about multiple subjects they have no degree-level qualifications or any significant experience in, is NOT an insult. It’s a relevant home truth that wouldn’t have to be pointed out in healthy areas of academe.

    …And conversely do you think calling me a dimwit is NOT a childish insult? And how much swearing will you let DM get away with?

    I’d advise you to stop using the word “speculative” since it highlights your failure to understand the essence of science as being Conjecture (=speculation) and Refutation.

    And the nature of any kind of research is precisely NOT being “in line” with past beliefs.

  56. #56 Strangetruther
    May 28, 2011

    Addressing Augray’s comments with at least one serious misapprehension embodied in every sentence would be a never ending task which I’m not inclined to begin.

    In general it’s quite clear that not one of you has read Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. This is behind most of your misunderstanding of the nature of science. You’ve spent years arguing against the predominant paradigm in modern science without even bothering to read anything about it – yet you’re shocked when your 1950’s approach approach is criticised!

  57. #57 David Marjanović
    May 28, 2011

    I’d advise you to stop using the word “speculative” since it highlights your failure to understand the essence of science as being Conjecture (=speculation) and Refutation.

    By “speculation” we mean “idea that would explain a small, isolated phenomenon and hasn’t been tested thoroughly”. That’s how scientists most commonly use that term.

    …And conversely do you think calling me a dimwit is NOT a childish insult?

    Demonstrate you didn’t deserve it, and I’ll retract it.

    And the nature of any kind of research is precisely NOT being “in line” with past beliefs.

    Darren was talking about observations, not beliefs.

    You’ve spent years arguing against the predominant paradigm in modern science

    Nobody here argues against the importance of falsification, and I don’t understand why you keep claiming otherwise. All we’re saying is that falsification is one of the two parts of the scientific method.

  58. #58 Augray
    May 28, 2011

    David Marjanovic wrote in 53:

    Yes, Archaeopteryx is similar in certain ways to Microraptor, but it certainly couldn’t fly like modern birds, just as Microraptor couldn’t, and here’s why:

    -It lacked an alula, which is used to reduce leading edge wing turbulence during low speed flight.

    Microraptor actually has a kind of one — even though Archie doesn’t.

    Really? I did a word search on “alula” of the Microraptor pdfs I have and couldn’t find anything on it. Do you have a reference for that?

    -Archaeopteryx lacked a triosseal canal in the shoulder for passage of the tendon of the supracoracoideus muscle (which assists in the wing’s upstroke, as well as the rapid reorientation of the wing during the upstroke).

    True, but bats, pterosaurs, Sapeornis and Confuciusornis share this plesiomorphic condition. Other muscles are available for the upstroke; bats use the good old deltoideus, the other three had huge deltopectoral crests.

    But as I mentioned, it’s also used to reorient the wing. I’m not sure why such a trait would evolve if it didn’t provide some kind of advantage. And I think I read somewhere that such a feature appeared independently in the enantiornithes… but don’t quote me on that.

    -Archaeopteryx lacked an ossified and keeled sternum for the attachment of the flight muscles, a trait possessed by living birds that fly, and so would not have been a very powerful flyer, since there was no solid structure upon which to anchor the flight muscles. The situation is only slightly better in Microraptor, which actually did have an ossified sternum, but not a keeled one.

    The keel is where the supracoracoideus attaches; the pectoralis extends at most to the base of the keel.

    The base? Any diagram I’ve seen seems to show it being anchored to more of the distal edge than the base. The pectoralis seems to overlay the supracoracoideus in that area.

    A well-developed keel is not found in bats or pterosaurs or Confuciusornis (I forgot if the sternum of Sapeornis is even known);

    Apparently not.

    this may well be due to their use of the deltoideus for the upstroke.

    I think ewveryone agrees that the deltoideus is very important in that regard, and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was trying to discount it.

    Are you quoting yourself?

    Yes. On his blog, he codified science theory, and now he quotes it as if it were something universal.

    Then why does he feel the need for one name here, and another there?

  59. #59 A
    May 28, 2011

    Strangetruther wrote in 56:

    Addressing Augray’s comments with at least one serious misapprehension embodied in every sentence would be a never ending task which I’m not inclined to begin.

    Yet unsurprisingly, you can’t point to any particular misapprehension I supposedly have.

    In general it’s quite clear that not one of you has read Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. This is behind most of your misunderstanding of the nature of science. You’ve spent years arguing against the predominant paradigm in modern science without even bothering to read anything about it – yet you’re shocked when your 1950’s approach approach is criticised!

    Ah, the good old Appeal to Authority fallacy.

  60. #60 Darren Naish
    May 28, 2011

    Response to David in comment 54: ok, if you’re cool with this I’ll let it go. In principle, I don’t let people throw unwarranted insults at other commenters. And, for an example of what I mean by an unwarranted insult: I mean stuff like “he’s too arrogant and childish to learn” (comment # 47).

    One more bit of advice, John: probably wisest to stop assuming that other people are familiar with your pet hypotheses and assertions. It looks somewhat like misplaced arrogance to assume that people have (a) read and (b) remembered the stuff you’ve said in the past.

  61. #61 DDeden
    May 28, 2011

    “water behaves much like a solid on impact”
    FLat water does, surf doesn’t.

  62. #62 Strangetruther
    May 28, 2011

    I’ve worked out why so many keep thinking: “Oh – that’s speculative” even though you’ve accepted, more or less, the impossibility of proof and the importance of refutation…

    It’s because of the ingrained habit of starting from evidence (which is unnecessary because theory can come from anywhere)…

    People expect scientific work to start with something they can point to and then work systematically towards some kind of proof. This is the procedure with the dreaded geometry – dreaded because it uses methods unsuitable for natural science.

    In fact there is no special method for theory generation required: a point important enough to be stressed: rule 13:1 : “Strictures apply to judging theories but not to generating them.”

    …and then there is the expectation of something that looks like a “proof” at the end. What in fact comes at the end is the only place where evidence is applied – judging whether the theory does or doesn’t explain the evidence.

    This is all just habit and expectation. It’s the duty of a good scientist to change their ways with the speed at which the science moves forwards, even if it needs the habits of a (or more than one) lifetime to be adjusted very quickly.

    So if you really do accept that evidence is the extent to which a theory explains (or doesn’t) the observations, apply evidence after the theory is generated and don’t let bad habits try to insist on an earlier role for it.

    ————-

    @Naish:

    It looks somewhat like misplaced arrogance to assume that people have (a) read and (b) remembered the stuff you’ve said in the past.

    It’s the duty of a scientist to engage meaningfully in scientific discussions. If you can’t follow that rule yourself, fine; but stop trying to imply it’s ok for others to ignore those you disagree with. And my belief that my ideas deserve to be heard is misplaced is it? Well how many degrees in the relevant specialist subjects would you say I needed?

    …your pet hypotheses and assertions…

    I’ve told you about weasel words before. Can’t you provide a fair forum for this discussion?

  63. #63 Darren Naish
    May 28, 2011

    Well how many degrees in the relevant specialist subjects would you say I needed?

    I know I shouldn’t respond, but…

    In this comment thread, your very much idiosyncratic speculations on dinosaur behaviour/functional morphology have been treated with, I would say, an appropriate amount of scepticism. Your responses mostly involve ranting about the philosophy of science: yeah, because that sure does demonstrate that some dromaeosaurs could be specialised, falcon-like aerial predators. How many “degress in the relevant specialist subjects” would I say you needed? I have no idea (even though – in the BCF thread – you referred to your qualification in info. sys. eng.), but a bit of humility might not go amiss.

    On that note, why do you have to act as if you’re right all the time, and that everyone who disagrees with you is either stupid, blinkered or naive? Some might say that this sort of behaviour is just obnoxious.

  64. #64 Cale
    May 29, 2011

    For the record, I don’t even think it’s impossible that there could have been a falcon like aerial theropod of some sort to have existed in the Jurassic or Cretaceous. The idea itself isn’t so terribly farfetched that I wouldn’t accept the possibility. But Microraptor was certainly not that theropod, and until we find a fossil with such flight adaptations (which would be awesome), it remains nothing more than an imaginative flight of fancy.

  65. #65 David Marjanović
    May 29, 2011

    Something here triggered moderation, and yesterday’s moderated comment by me (on the Squamozoic thread) hasn’t gone through yet. I’ll try to find out by posting this here in pieces.

    Microraptor actually has a kind of one — even though Archie doesn’t.

    Really? I did a word search on “alula” of the Microraptor pdfs I have and couldn’t find anything on it. Do you have a reference for that?

    As seen in for instance the type specimen of M. gui, there are long feathers along the thumb. That’s not a modern-style alula; maybe that’s why the descriptions (IIRC) don’t mention it.

    Archie lacks even that. And so does Confuciusornis.

    But as I mentioned, it’s also used to reorient the wing. I’m not sure why such a trait would evolve if it didn’t provide some kind of advantage.

    It clearly did provide an advantage. I’m just saying it’s not necessary for powered flight.

    And I think I read somewhere that such a feature appeared independently in the enantiornithes…

    No, they just had it the other way around: instead of a peg on the scapula fitting into a socket on the coracoid, they had a peg on the coracoid fitting into a socket on the scapula.

    This is the kind of thing that, 40 years ago, people would have believed “ooh, this must have evolved twice independently, because there’s no way a peg would transform into a socket!” Indeed not. The basal ?enantiornithean Protopteryx has flat surfaces on both bones — the joint was mobile, just not much. This is most parsimoniously interpreted as the ancestral condition for Ornithothoraces ( = Enantiornithes, Euornithes, and their MRCA).

    The base? Any diagram I’ve seen seems to show it being anchored to more of the distal edge than the base. The pectoralis seems to overlay the supracoracoideus in that area.

    *facepalm* You’re right, I misremembered.

    Then why does he feel the need for one name here, and another there?

    Some people like to have different identities in different venues. This includes people who don’t try to hide which identity they have where. *shrug*

    “water behaves much like a solid on impact”
    FLat water does, surf doesn’t.

    Is surf ever deep enough to have an effect…?

  66. #66 David Marjanović
    May 29, 2011

    Part 1 got through. Part 2:

    I’ve worked out why so many keep thinking: “Oh – that’s speculative” even though you’ve accepted, more or less, the impossibility of proof and the importance of refutation…

    It’s because of the ingrained habit of starting from evidence (which is unnecessary because theory can come from anywhere)…

    People expect scientific work to start with something they can point to and then work systematically towards some kind of proof.

    I really don’t understand where you get this from. Probably you’ve never watched a scientist work and are only… speculating. :-)

    I, for one, have always started from ideas that looked good to me. And I’m sure everyone knows the story of Kekulé’s dream — nobody claims that hypothesis generation, as opposed to hypothesis testing, has to follow a single, strict method.

    When I say a particular claim of yours is speculative, that means you haven’t much tried to falsify it and have hardly tried at all to show that it is more parsimonious than alternatives which explain the same or more and which are falsifiable but not falsified so far.

    …and then there is the expectation of something that looks like a “proof” at the end.

    No, I’m a phylogeneticist.

    What in fact comes at the end is the only place where evidence is applied –

    End? What end?

    It’s the duty of a scientist to engage meaningfully in scientific discussions. If you can’t follow that rule yourself, fine; but stop trying to imply it’s ok for others to ignore those you disagree with. And my belief that my ideas deserve to be heard is misplaced is it?

    For the second time, no, I do not remember every Internet discussion I’ve ever had. I have several every day — and you only show up here once every few months. Why don’t you publish? The way it is, your rare voicings of your claims do not stand out from the background of Internet victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    It is not a duty of a scientist to have a photographic memory. Publish or perish.

    Well how many degrees in the relevant specialist subjects would you say I needed?

    You’ve completely missed the point.

  67. #67 David Marjanović
    May 29, 2011

    WTF! It got through even though I didn’t change a word in the text! Is there a length limit for comments now!?!?!

    But that comment yesterday that got caught in moderation wasn’t long at all…

  68. #68 Darren Naish
    May 29, 2011

    Hold on, David, I’ll go check the spam file…

    I have no understanding of what gets filtered and what doesn’t. It’s not down to a keyword list or anything like that.

  69. #69 Darren Naish
    May 29, 2011

    Ok, there are three separate comments in there. But you’ve now repeated them all here, right? I may as well leave them as spam, then. Let me know.

  70. #70 David Marjanović
    May 29, 2011

    I’ve now repeated them all, you can leave them, thanks.

  71. #71 Augray
    May 30, 2011
    Microraptor actually has a kind of one — even though Archie doesn’t.

    Really? I did a word search on “alula” of the Microraptor pdfs I have and couldn’t find anything on it. Do you have a reference for that?

    As seen in for instance the type specimen of M. gui, there are long feathers along the thumb. That’s not a modern-style alula; maybe that’s why the descriptions (IIRC) don’t mention it.

    Archie lacks even that. And so does Confuciusornis.

    I’ll assume that you’re refering to the tuft off of the left pollex. To be honest, I don’t know what to make of that. It could be an alula, but the positioning looks weird. If Dave Hone’s lurking, maybe he could fill us in.

    But as I mentioned, it’s also used to reorient the wing. I’m not sure why such a trait would evolve if it didn’t provide some kind of advantage.

    It clearly did provide an advantage. I’m just saying it’s not necessary for powered flight.

    I never claimed that it was, merely that Microraptor and Archaeopteryx don’t have it.

    And I think I read somewhere that such a feature appeared independently in the enantiornithes…

    No, they just had it the other way around: instead of a peg on the scapula fitting into a socket on the coracoid, they had a peg on the coracoid fitting into a socket on the scapula.

    This is the kind of thing that, 40 years ago, people would have believed “ooh, this must have evolved twice independently, because there’s no way a peg would transform into a socket!” Indeed not. The basal ?enantiornithean Protopteryx has flat surfaces on both bones — the joint was mobile, just not much. This is most parsimoniously interpreted as the ancestral condition for Ornithothoraces ( = Enantiornithes, Euornithes, and their MRCA).

    I think that we may be talking about two different, although somewhat related, things here. I’m going to have to do some research on it…

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