Thursday, August 20, 2009

Oh, To Fly Like a Duck...

Palaeontological fieldwork in the southwest of France has turned up evidence that pterosaurs, which ruled the skies during the Triassic and Cretaceous, flew and landed like ducks. The story, by David Perlman, appears in SFGate. He writes:

For the first time, a team of scientists, including a noted UC Berkeley paleontologist, has discovered the tracks that one small pterosaur made as it landed on the muddy shore of an ancient sea sometime between 150 million and 115 million years ago.

That gently sloping shore is now a broad stretch of flat rock known as Pterosaur Beach in a limestone quarry near the tiny village of Crayssac in southwestern France. It's so far off the tourist routes that it has no hotel or inn, so Kevin Padian, the Berkeley scientist who has studied pterosaur fossils for more than 25 years, and his French and Swiss colleagues slept at the local school while there to investigate the newfound tracks.

Padian, if you will recall, was a principle witness for the prosecution in the Dover School Board trial of 2005 and, along with the testimony of Kenneth Miller, was instrumental in showing the vacuity of the position that Intelligent Design can be characterized as science. Perlman continues:
"These tracks," Padian said, "tell us that this animal must have flapped its wings with its body upright, stalled in the air like many waterbirds do, and landed feet first just the way flying ducks like mergansers do today. Then, its newfound tracks show this pterosaur took a few short, stuttering steps, turned slightly to its left, and there the tracks stop."
Another mystery solved!

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