Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

Thor Hanson

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0465028780

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told.

In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?

Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.

Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.

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Shearwaters Silver Hilton fly Silver-laced Wyandottes Silverman, Phil Single-comb Common Leghorn rooster Sing-sings Sinosauropteryx prima Smith, Frank C. Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Snowy Egrets Snowy Owl Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings Solnhofen fossils Song Sparrow Sonic Hedgehog gene Sooty Shearwaters Sooty Terns Soras Sounds, feather Club-winged Manakin “ting” sound resonant quality of feather shafts snaps

body-mass-to-wing ratio for a sustained flight!) There is little doubt that theropods could run and leap, but could that strategy have ever provided the thrust and lift required for takeoff? This is the question that keeps the tree-down theory very much alive. “There’s a certain euphoria in the dinosaur community about having solved the problem,” Alan Feduccia told me, but he and other BAND members reject the idea that flight could have evolved in a terrestrial setting. “It’s almost

Ostrich.” Impressed by his distinguished service in the Boer War, as well as his deep knowledge of ostrich farming, they tasked Thornton with finding, capturing, and bringing home alive as many of the birds as sheer logistics would allow. Money was no object. To a powerful group of lawmakers and feather moguls, this mission was seen as no less than the salvation of the South African ostrich industry. Known chiefly by reputation and rumor, the Barbary Ostrich boasted extravagant “double-floss”

the British Royal Museum. Owen’s board of trustees balked at the price, but he and a colleague defied them, conducting secret negotiations with the doctor that dragged on for half a year. For Häberlein, the stakes were high: he was seventy-four years old, a widower, with a daughter at home who required a substantial dowry to marry within her station. Family honor (and a comfortable retirement) required a lucrative sale. For Richard Owen, the stakes were even higher. He was the preeminent

than the active memberships of the United Auto Workers, the Longshoremen, the United Farm Workers, the Association of Flight Attendants, and the Writers Guild of America combined. 176 feathers had epitomized high style: Feathered head wear developed independently in numerous prehistoric cultures but formally entered Western tradition by way of Persia, where soldiers added a “feather to their cap” to commemorate battlefield kills. Feathers still feature prominently in military dress uniforms

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