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Ancient Reptile Had Wings Like a Fighter Jet 157

anthemaniac writes "A reptile that lived 225 million years ago had triangular-shaped wings like the delta-wings of some jets. At least that's what a new computer model suggests. Researcher have generated several possible shapes for the wings of Sharovipteryx mirabili before, so this is just the latest guess (based on one fossil). Last fall NatGeo reported that the first biplane configuration was on a dinosaur. Maybe airplane designers should delve into the fossil record a little more."
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Ancient Reptile Had Wings Like a Fighter Jet

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  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:04PM (#15746590) Homepage Journal
    I would find that a true delta configuration would be unlikely as there would be little evolutionary advantage to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing.

    The whole reason that flight engineers started adopting the delta wing configuration is that it allowed the shockwave for supersonic flight to be better controlled flight by moving the leading edge of the wing back behind the terminus. This is great for high speed flight, but miserable for low speed flight as it requires very high stall speeds that would be ....... unlikely in this creature.

    Furthermore, if one looks at just about any flying creature now or in the past, the leading edge of their "wing" has always been protected by bone, feather or both. To have an unprotected membrane as the leading edge of the "wing" that could be easily damaged would be devastating to the aerodynamic properties and the overall fitness of the organism. From these reasons, I would be much more likely to believe the first alternative reconstruction of Sharovipteryx mirabilis where the membranes could be protected and even gathered up when not in use, a function that would not be possible with standard articulation of the bones as presented in the figures of Dykes representation.

    • by Rakshasa Taisab ( 244699 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:24PM (#15746680) Homepage
      Ever considered the possibility that looking cool would be an evolutinary advantage?
      • Mod parent up! Funniest post all week!
        • It's not all that silly.

          If some crazy looking bird like you'd never seen before swooped down on you, you'd probably freak out and be at an evolutionary disadvantage.

          So yeah, as long as looking "cool" means looking unique and surprising.
      • by MrFebtober ( 922100 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:50PM (#15746787)
        Ever considered the possibility that looking cool would be an evolutinary advantage?

        Sexual display often drives evolution. The brighter the feathers, the bigger the tusks, the stinkier the stink gland, it can all lead to natural selection. If that's what you meant by "cool," then you may have something there. In this case, it could be that the bigger the rear-leg skin flaps, the more attractive to the female. Lots of birds have huge feathers that are only for display. In some cases they make flight impossible, but display takes priority. Any reason why that couldn't be what's going on here?

        crap, I just contradicted my other post.
        • It's possible. (Score:3, Informative)

          by jd ( 1658 )
          Some such displays are to get attention by being more outrageous. Others are an indication of physical health or adequate nutrition. A stunted wing might well have indicated that an animal was in trouble, and oversized wings might well have been much more attention-grabbing. With only a single fossil to go by, it's hard to tell anything, but I think you might very well be right, if this is a representative example.

          (It could equally well have been a freak one-off mutation that was wholly incapable of propoga

        • I've often wondered whether humans will evolve to the media's standards of beauty. Maybe its just me being 23, losing hair and feeling old and ugly for the first time, but I SWEAR that people have as a whole gotten more attractive.

          Of course there are several huge holes in this theory, such as my impressions being skewed based on LOCAL levels of physical attractiveness (as defined by mass media) and also the fact that there's no way evolution could work that quickly...is there?

          • Go down to your local DMV and spend a morning observing a more or less random sample from the general population. My guess is you'll drop that view right quick and consider the alternative hypothesis that you're hanging out in places where young, attractive people tend to congregate.
          • by ElephanTS ( 624421 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @08:20PM (#15747299)
            No, evolution does not work that fast. What you're seeing is an image-obssessed society spending and working more on their appearance. I tend to share your opinion - people today are better looking - but it's mainly presentation. But also good lookingness (to get a bit Blue Steel here) is closely tied to evolutionary fitness (healthy=attractive) so perhaps people are generally healthier. Evolution would only have an effect if the least good-looking were not able to breed because of it. Although this may be the case for a small number of men (insert slashdot joke here) I don't think it's going to be evolutionarily significant.

            On a similar topic, have you ever noticed people from 50 years ago looked different to people now. I used to think that was due to presentation (ie, fashion, hairstyles, grooming etc) but now I think it's down to dietary differences and developmental factors. People in the UK, increasingly look younger than they used to too due, I suspect, to better living and working conditions.
          • Everything's more attractive when you're 23...

            especially when you're drunk.
          • Does the plastic surgeon count as evolution, now? :->
      • Don't you think there's more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?
    • by HolyCrapSCOsux ( 700114 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:30PM (#15746707)
      Of course it was not a good design. If it was, it wouldn't be extinct would it?
      • Of course it was not a good design. If it was, it wouldn't be extinct would it?

        My understanding (from watching the Discovery Channel) is that extinction is a gambit rarely predicated on good design. Mass extinctions periodically kill off most species on the planet. It's not the best designed who survive, but those who (through luck) have designs allowing survival through the particulars of the cataclysm: extreme vulcanism, ice age, drought, etc. Dinosaurs and Neanderthals were good designs for the ages they
      • Not really. There have probably been hundreds of thousands of "good designs" that have been wiped out because of global catastrophes or simple because the environment gradually changed. An organism that transports oxygen with blood based on copper instead of iron, is not necessarily obsolete but just not called for at the moment.
      • "Of course it was not a good design. If it was, it wouldn't be extinct would it?"

        Unfortunately for this lizard the design was great...however the increased wingspan dictated that the larger wing membrane be comprised of a lighter material that also happened to smell like BBQ sauce.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      While I might just misunderstand, it looks like this lizard developed flight on its own. This means the question isn't "is this form of flight more advantageous than other forms of flight?" but "is this form of flight more advantageous than no flight at all?"

      And for all we know, maybe the configuration wasn't advantageous. Maybe the delta configuration was too problematic to work in the long term. After all, the lizard did go extinct.
    • Agree. I would find far more feasible a wing design were a membrane connects all limbs, the body and the tail, just like a comet.
      It would match the upright flight attitude mentioned on TFA, although it wouldn't be what we could call a smooth glide.

      However, neither configuration would be as efficient as the wings of a bat, which probably lead to their extintion or evolution into a different design anyway.
    • delta wings often have a fairly predictable stall (high angle of attack, "mush out"). It's also not /that/ bad for low-speeds: see almost any paper airplane :)


      Drag gets high at low speed/high AOA, but if the dinosaur was not a very good pilot the wing could make some sense

    • Looking at the fossil then at the wing configurations IMO (b) appears to be more likely, ie. bat-like. I reckon 'delta wing fighter-like' is nothing more than a case of wishful thinking so these paleontologists can drum up some media attention.
    • >I would find that a true delta configuration would be
      >unlikely as there would be little evolutionary advantage
      >to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration
      >for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing.

      Probably, but not necessarily. Such wing configurations also allow much wider ranges of angle of attack/higher stall angles. I can see that being useful if you are trying to fly around in a forest.

      Brett
    • there would be little evolutionary advantage to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing.


      Check out the Rogallo glider (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogallo_wing [wikipedia.org]). It is simple, lightweight, and suitable for low speeds. The a and d configurations in TFA look similar.

    • I would find that a true delta configuration would be unlikely as there would be little evolutionary advantage to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing.

      Sorry, "little evolutionary advantage" doesn't stop something from happening. It has to cause problems before it disappears. If the reptile had the wings but they didn't stop it from competing, then it would survive and pass on the wings to it's offspring.

    • Too right. Soft leading edge - yeah.
      BTW there are quite a few animals (placentals, marsupials, lizards) alive today that look a lot like drawing 'a'. So why go for the freaky, stupid idea? Publicity perhaps.
      Oh yes, and the pterosaurs (with membranes on the fore-limb) evolved from these things with membranes on the hind limb.
      Did these bright guys come up with an explanation of how you manage to run around (or climb) while you are gradually evolving flight at your rear? Lots of animals can walk on th
    • The writer of this comment seems to be unaware that delta wings:

      1 - predate supersonic flight

      2 - predate jet engines.

      During the 1920s and 1930 a large number of delta wing propeller-driven aircraft were designed. The most prolific designer was Hill of Westland-Hill (UK) whose series of Pterodactyl fighters is well-known by European aircraft designers. A number of German manufacturers also built delta-wing prop-driven aircraft.

      Deltas provide a stable wing platform and have benefits in having low stall spee
    • Adapted more for leaping through thick brush without breaking your wings perhaps, in search of fast-moving food?
    • The creature was a glider, not a flier. Its entire "flight" was a controlled stall in a peculiar almost-vertical configuration that would have allowed it to grab onto things with its forearms as it fell. Also, the almost-vertical configuration means that it's hard to consider any edges as being "leading edges." The large area of the tail membrane would make it a more likely target than the forearm membranes.
    • Dude, don't ruin our childish fanasies with your boring "facts"! It would be so cool, like... TYRANNOSAURS IN F-14s!!!! [ytmnd.com]

      I still bust out at that comic. Ah, Bill Waterston, I miss your genius.... Full comic here [slate.com]
    • Evolution works on what exists already, and makes incremental, accumulated modifications as driven by selection by the environment. That a particular wing implementation may be an evolutionary dead-end has little bearing on the individuals who are given an ever-so-slight advantage over their peers. If a variation gives an advantage now, it gets passed on now even if, down the road, a different wing configuration would have been a better "design." Even using the word "design" implies, wrongly, that an ob
    • Furthermore, if one looks at just about any flying creature now or in the past, the leading edge of their "wing" has always been protected by bone, feather or both.

      That's not true. The leading edge of a bird's wing is called the patagium [wikipedia.org], and is simply skin that is stretched from the humerus to the carpal joint. The leading edge of a bat wing [utep.edu] is similar, but in bats, all the skin of the wing is referred to as the patagium, while the leading edge is called the propatagium. In either case, the leading edg
    • I don't know... from the sketches this dino doesn't look like a flyer, it's more like a glider. And it's "wings" actually are a membrane connecting it's rear members with the tail, forming a triangle... It has nothing to do with the delta wing configuration of modern jets.

      Pehaps the article is trying to correlate this dino with jets just to gather some attention.
    • Yeah, but you have to admit. Wouldn't a supersonic reptile just be awesome?
    • "I would find that a true delta configuration would be unlikely as there would be little evolutionary advantage to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing."

      Yes, yes. Please remember that this is an extinct critter. Obviously, the wing configuration could not withstand the rigors of natural selection. After all, why are all fossils found examples of improvement of a species? Why aren't there more examples of critters that were obvio
    • Hang gliders use a delta wing and they don't fly particularly quickly.
    • I would find that a true delta configuration would be unlikely as there would be little evolutionary advantage to developing an inherently less stable "wing" configuration for the low speed flying that this creature would be doing.

      The whole reason that flight engineers started adopting the delta wing configuration is that it allowed the shockwave for supersonic flight to be better controlled flight by moving the leading edge of the wing back behind the terminus. This is great for high speed flight, but mise
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:04PM (#15746591) Homepage Journal

    A reptile that lived 225 million years ago had triangular-shaped wings

    You mean "6,000 years ago an all-powerful sky-wizard designed a miraculous flying beast and a mate for travel on Noah's Ark."

    • > > A reptile that lived 225 million years ago had triangular-shaped wings
      >
      >You mean "6,000 years ago an all-powerful sky-wizard designed a miraculous flying beast and a mate for travel on Noah's Ark."

      You mean "Noahs Aircraft Carrier" (which was itself merely the CV-1 "Gilgamesh" dug out of mothballs with a new set of flags :)

      • You mean "Noahs Aircraft Carrier" (which was itself merely the CV-1 "Gilgamesh" dug out of mothballs with a new set of flags :)

        I don't think so. The boat used in the Gilgamesh epos was 'as wide as it was long' and it only needed enough space for the 'essential' seeds so Utnapishtim could start anew after the flood. Noah's boat was version 2.0 based on a rectangular shape so steering it somewhere was definitely easier. It also was built to withstand a greater flood and according to creationists it was big
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:05PM (#15746593) Homepage Journal
    We need to stop looking at ancient fossils, we need to go and ask the only living relative of this creature just what they were for and how they looked.

    This reptile was clearly the ancestor of MC Hammer [bbc.co.uk].

    Back in reality now (after a cold shower) some Bats [washington.edu] have practically identical skin flaps between their legs even nowadays.

    As for diving into the fossil records, we should be trying to model our aircraft on living birds and bats and insects, at least then we don't need a computer to guess how it should work. I would rather put my trust into something when there are plenty of study models to base a design from, not a single sample guestimate.

    We can already soar like an eagle perhaps we need the manoeuvrability of a bat for urban airports?
  • What gets me... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:12PM (#15746628) Journal
    There's a red-tail hawk that hangs out over (or lives in) our office complex. Whenever I'm at the airport, I'm always struck by how similar his wingtips are to those on the CRJ-700 [aa.com].
    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:27PM (#15746690) Journal
      Forgot to note that my mental image upon reading "Sharovipteryx" was of a blonde, tennis-playing, flying dinosaur, a lot hotter than you'd expect such a creature to be.
    • You are saying that this [schmoker.org] looks like a CRJ-700 [aa.com]?

      You lost me. Well, I mean - they both have wings, I guess. But I don't think the CRJ-700 can bend it's wings.
      • by Otter ( 3800 )
        Yeah, you don't see it in those pictures, because they're shot (reasonably enough) from below, not from an office window above and head-on to the hawk. This one [schmoker.org] comes closest to catching it.
      • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by truckaxle ( 883149 )
        I think he meant more like this Red Tail [wikipedia.org] hawk demonstrating a sort of winglet [wikipedia.org] which provides a small aerodynamic advantage. However the hawk's adaptation may have been more of a stealth improvement (quiet when approaching prey) but efficiency and stealth may have been a mutual benefit in this adaptation.
  • fossil (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PresidentEnder ( 849024 ) <wyvernender@nOspaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:14PM (#15746636) Journal
    We know this animal from a single fossil; why do we think it flew? Not trying to troll, but the bone structure evident in that illustration looks perfectly suitable as a land animal, and kinda iffy as a flyer.
    • Re:fossil (Score:2, Funny)

      by Joebert ( 946227 )
      why do we think it flew?

      Because secretly, we all want to hear that a new specimen was discovered complete with two fossilized jet engines that had been grafted into the creatures body.
    • Re:fossil (Score:2, Informative)

      by MrFebtober ( 922100 )
      Fossils sometimes leave more than just bone. In this case, there must have been impressions in the fossil which indicated that the animal had some sort of membrane. It's also possible to tell when some animals have taken measures to lighten their bodies for flight. they have thinner, sometimes hollow bones and some organs reduce in size, anything to reduce weight. Also, in this case the long thin rear legs kind of hint that they were not just for terrestrial use.
    • Re:fossil (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      First off, we don't think it flew; we think it glided. Second, the reason we think that because of the structure of it's back legs and hips.

      Animals have to be good at getting around. This animal's front legs are way shorter than its back legs, so it wasn't running on all fours. They don't say so in the article, but probably scientists looked at the structure of its knee joints, hips joints, and feet and decided there wasn't very much mobility -- therefore it was easily lunch running on two legs. Finally,
  • CAD (Score:5, Funny)

    by berenixium ( 920883 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:20PM (#15746659) Journal
    "What do the latest simulations look like?"
    "The computer suggests that the bird had 'fighter plane'-like wings..."
    "Let me see that hardcopy!"
    "...WTF? A concorde-type nose? Who the **** has been messing with my simulation-apps again? ****ing undergrads!"
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      Who the **** has been messing with my simulation-apps again? ****

      Perhaps less time needs to be spent messing around with computers and more time spent messing around in the field looking for data worth a damn.

      KFG
  • by Odin_Tiger ( 585113 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:21PM (#15746667) Journal
    Maybe airplane designers should delve into the fossil record a little more.
    The first and only known rear-limb delta-wing-glider type creature. Oh, and it's extinct. Maybe the rear-oriented delta-wing airplane design isn't such a great idea after all? >:P
  • Prior art (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gax ( 196168 )
    A reptile that lived 225 million years ago had triangular-shaped wings like the delta-wings of some jets.

    No, some jets have delta-wings like reptiles that lived 225 million years ago.

     
  • by PrescriptionWarning ( 932687 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @05:24PM (#15746681)
    Seems like a bad idea if you ask me, because last I checked they all died. Its probably also why nobody has made a machine based off the dodo. Stupid dodos.
  • I don't even want to speculate about the missiles.
  • For what flying animal flies like a helicopter?
  • If I draw a picture of a squished thing which is different from previous pictures of a squished thing -- you know, something no one will ever be able to verify -- can I get an article about my pretty picture, too? It'd look good on my grant applications.
  • Hm. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by solafide ( 845228 )
    Does anyone else see something wrong with basing something on one bone that's been fossilized? When mainstream scientists can't even explain exactly how these bones lasted as long as they think they did?
    • Re:Hm. (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Uh, no, because if it was a tooth, for example, *alot* can be determined from that "one bone". Same for many other individual bones, though most are not as diagnostic as teeth.

      Then there's the fact that this specimen consists of a pretty complete skeleton with preservation of soft tissues, so your question kind of misses the point. This isn't "one bone".

      "When mainstream scientists can't even explain exactly how these bones lasted as long as they think they did?"

      Check out the general references on Wikipedi [wikipedia.org]
    • Maybe, but what does that have to do with this? There was more than one bone. RTFA, whydontya? And the process of fossilization is very well characterized. Once something is ensconced in rock it can last a long time. What strange pseudoscience told you otherwise?
  • Did I see this on The Flintstones once...?
  • The Flying Spaghetti Monster only created a mountain and dwarf. All hail our delta-winged overlords
  • So could some defense contractor use an aspect of this fossil's design as evidence of prior art in a patent dispute?
  • Jet exhaust (Score:5, Funny)

    by lastninja ( 237588 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @06:45PM (#15747006)
    Considering that most dinosaurs were herbivores and ate a lot of beans and grass, not only did they have delta-wings of some jets, they probably had jet exhaust engines aswell :).
  • Given that there's generally at least a tiny bit of truth in legends, and knowing that the bombardier beetle can emit a kind of hot chemical spray from its butt to defend itself, I wonder if the ancient reptile looked anything like the little guy in this picture [lspace.org] (sorry it's not a better image).

    Isn't he cute? His name's Errol.

  • wings like a hang glider... like the "Rogallo wing" which is a delta planform, not because of compressibility reasons pertinent to supersonic flight but because the delta shape allows easy pitch control without a tail. I suppose we can't PROVE that the beast didn't go mach 1+ but pro'lly it didn't....
  • Look out, Godzilla!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodan [wikipedia.org]
  • You mean with missiles on it?!?!!?!!!?

    Sweet!

  • Having a delta wings configuration does not offer anything over the classic bird wing configuration, because when birds want to dive they retract their wings into delta shape. Not only delta, but then can almost make wings disappear and dive like a rock.

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