A Blog by Carl Zimmer

Feathers: 200 Million Years In Just Over 3 Minutes

Last year I wrote in National Geographic about the long, remarkable history of feathers. The folks at TED-Ed (the educational wing of TED) invited me to boil down that history to about three minutes–accompanied by a splendid animation by Armeilia Leung. Here’s what we came up with.

For more information, you can visit the video’s page at TED-Ed.

9 thoughts on “Feathers: 200 Million Years In Just Over 3 Minutes

  1. I recall that the advantage flapping wings give for running up an incline is not upward lift but instead a downward force that give more traction.

  2. Great video Carl, and many thanks for discussing this so concisely! One other thing that’s so awesome about this story is the variety of feathers we find in the fossil record – it’s like dinosaurs experimented with different types of feather, different combinations, until the advantages of one led to dominate. New bizarre feathered species are coming out all the time, and are truly spectacular in what they reveal to us!

  3. Fantastic conceptual approach with both words and drawing. Wondering about the selective pressure on dinosaur species to run uphill, and how strong that was compared to other pressures like mate selection (loveliness)…. Perhaps pressure was highest for the smallest dinosaurs? :)

  4. Great video. Can you comment on the term ‘exaptation’ and what it means in this context?

    [CZ: Exaptations are adaptations that evolve to take on a new function. Feathers, for example, did not evolve in response to selection for flight. They had some sort of earlier function on flightless dinosaurs. Here’s a good primer on exaptation.]

  5. What if the straight feathers (that looked like wires) are like our hair now? After all, those ‘wires’ split apart just like our hair has split ends…
    Will human evolution lead to feathers as hair? That’ll be AMAZING.

  6. This is very “cute” but the stupidest thing I have ever heard of!! I like the last comment about humans evolving and our hair turning into feathers. I cannot believe intelligent people fall for this. I believe things have adapted to suit their needs or enviroment but not “evolved” a bird is till a bird and dog is a dog. There are no crossing between species. If birds evovled and grew feathes then dogs,cats and fish should have too. Instead we have distictivly different speies that have been around for ever. Just like in Genisis when God created them.

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