Greater Roadrunner — Toothless Dinosaur

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I have a tendency at times to let my imagination run away. That may happen when I see a bird such as a Greater Roadrunner foraging by walking and running rather than flying. In my mind’s eye I envision small and agile theropod dinosaurs hunting prey, 65 million or more years ago.

It’s actually not so much of a fantasy. Anatomically, there are some similarities between this roadrunner and those ancient dinosaurs. Like small theropods this roadrunner has a lanky body, long legs and tail, and the ability to run at high speed. The roadrunner is covered with feathers, of course, but as it turns out, so also were many of the small theropods. True, the roadrunner’s forelimbs have evolved into wings that give it the power of flight (although roadrunners are weak fliers). But many of the small theropods had forelimbs covered in feathers that resembled wings.

One major difference between this bird and those dinosaurs is that the roadrunner lacks teeth. I’ll get to the possible significance of that in a moment.

Most paleontologists consider today’s birds to be dinosaurs, members of the one branch of the dinosaur family that survived the mass extinction event of 65 million years ago. Indeed, birds could easily be called “toothless dinosaurs.”

It’s generally believed that only the toothless dinosaurs (birds) survived the mass extinction. There is considerable debate as to why that is so. One theory is that many of the toothless dinosaurs (birds) also went extinct at the same time that their toothed cousins died out. But some species survived, because they had evolved to be able to eat food that dinosaurs with teeth did not eat, consisting of items such as seeds, nuts, and berries. Evidently, just enough seed-bearing plants survived the extinction to enable some birds to survive whereas other species, dependent on a different diet, starved. The absence of teeth wasn’t an asset for these survivors so much as it was a hallmark of their diet.

So, next time you observe a bird, think “toothless dinosaur.” You won’t be wrong.

Image made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 1250, f5.6 @ 1/3200, +1/3 stop exposure compensation.

2 Replies to “Greater Roadrunner — Toothless Dinosaur”

  1. Carroll says:

    Excellent!

  2. rebelbreeze says:

    thanks for the paleontological information with the photo

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