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Missing link in flying history



_____________________ Forward Header __________________________________
Subject: Missing link in flying history 
Author:  forteana@lists.primenet.com at smtp-fhu
Date:    1/08/96 06:27

The Times
August 1 1996 

Missing link in flying history 
BY NIGEL HAWKES SCIENCE EDITOR 

A FOSSIL of the first bird with variable-geometry wings, which lived
125 million years ago, has been discovered in central Spain, filling a
gap in the evolution of flight.

Like aircraft and its modern counterparts, the bird, which was about
the size of a goldfinch, had a flap called an alula in the leading
edge of its wings.

At slow speeds, the alula opens to create a "slot" through which the
air flows to prevent stalling.

This means that the bird, named Eoalulavis hoyasi by its Spanish and
American discoverers, could control itself precisely and accurately at
low speeds, coming in to land on the branch of a tree. The ancestor of
all birds, Archaeopteryx, lacked this ability and probably had to make
running landings on the ground.

The perfectly preserved fossil was found in the Las Hoyas deposits at
La Cierva in Cuenca province, which lies to the east of Madrid. It is
described in today's issue of Nature by the team which discovered it,
led by Dr Jose Sanz of the Autonomous University of Madrid.

The fossil is so perfect that the feathers and the contents of the
bird's stomach, including particles from the shells of crustaceans,
can be seen.