Dinosaurs in Flight

Ask Science is back with a miniseries from author Henry Gee. Based on his new book, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth, this miniseries will take you through 4.6 billion years of history with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigor.

Henry Gee
1-minute read
Episode #400
The Quick And Dirty

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Dinosaurs had always been built to fly. It started with their commitment to bipedalism. Their forelimbs, no longer required for running, were reduced, the hands left free for other activities, such as grasping prey, climbing, or flying. In sauropods, dinosaurs reverted to being quadrupeds and became the largest land animals ever to have lived, some measuring more than 50 meters long and weighing more than 70 tons. But dinosaurs also excelled at being small. The peculiar, bat-like Yi was no bigger than a starling.

How did dinosaurs get to be so very large—and so very small?

It began with the way they breathed. Dinosaurs and their immediate relatives evolved a one-way system for air handling, which made breathing very efficient. Air entered the lungs but did not immediately come out again. Instead, the air was shunted, guided by one-way valves, through an extensive system of air sacs throughout the body. Air spaces surrounded the internal organs and even penetrated the bones. Dinosaurs were literally full of air.

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About the Author

Henry Gee Ask Science

Henry Gee is a senior editor at Nature and the author of several books, including Jacob’s Ladder, In Search of Deep Time, The Science of Middle-earth, and The Accidental Species. He has appeared on BBC television and radio and NPR's All Things Considered, and has written for The Guardian, The Times, and BBC Science Focus. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets.