Research that makes people laugh, then think. That is the premise of the Ig Nobel awards that have been held annually at Harvard University for the last 25 years and this year an interesting fact about chickens surfaced in all that research; if you put an artificial tail on a chicken, it will walk like a dinosaur. Unlike the Nobel prize, the Ig Nobel (or Ig’s for short) are a far less serious affair, littered with quirky traditions and award recipients with off-beat, if not downright hilarious or far-fetched research.
One example of their off-beat research would be the work of Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez and José Iriarte-Díaz; “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion“. The whole idea of the work was to let chickens teach us about how prehistoric creatures walked, specifically theropods (Greek for “beast feet”) such as the T Rex. Birds are classified as a descendant of this class of dinosaur, which led researchers to study their gait.
Birds, and even today’s best backyard chickens, exhibit a modified posture, body shape and walking style. Most of these differences have to do with the fact that the balance of their bodies are different from their ancestors, mainly because birds don’t have long fleshy tails to weigh their backsides down. To compensate for this, researchers stuck artificial tails to their chicken demonstrators that included a weighted stick to mimic the weight of a fleshy tail. To quote Cara McGoogan of WIRED.co.uk, the experiment basically boiled down to “a chicken with a plunger on its rear end”.
The chicken seen in this YouTube video supports the researcher’s theory of posture evolution among theropods. Adding the artificial tail changed the chicken’s center of gravity, altering the way they walked from a knee flexion method to a femur movement method. Not only does this show us how this class of dinosaur walked, but it also supports the theory that, as theropods evolved, their center of gravity change caused an alteration in the way they walked.
But my question remains unanswered… Did Steven Spielberg get it right?
Using chickens, even heritage breed chickens, to study dinosaurs is not a new idea. Bhart-Anjan Bhullar from Yale University and Arkhat Abzhanov of Harvard University were able to successfully revert the facial structure of chickens back into the snout of it’s ancestors such as the Velociraptor. It makes you wonder what other interesting facts about chickens and egg facts they’ll uncover next!
Then there’s Paleontologist Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. Horner, who consulted Spielberg as a technical advisor on the set of “Jurassic Park”, wants to reverse engineer a dinosaur from chickens. Dispelling the premise of the movie, Jack said; “If you actually had a piece of amber and it had an insect in it, and you drilled into it, and you got something out of that insect and you cloned it, and you did it over and over and over again, you’d have a room full of mosquitoes,” during his TED talk in 2011. Instead of questing to finding preserved DNA, Jack wants to use the existing DNA of a chicken to revert one back to it’s ancestral glory.
I don’t know about you, but I remember watching Jurassic Park. There are two things that I vividly remember from the movie and that was, objects in mirror are closer than they appear, and bringing dinosaurs back to life, especially big predatory theropods, is a bad idea.