When you think about dinosaurs, this is the image that most likely comes to mind. However, research suggests that they actually looked way different, and that dinosaurs and birds have a lot more in common than we originally thought!
"It's important that people understand dinosaurs are still among us," said Mark Norell, chair of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "They're represented by at least 13,000 species alive today."
Scientists first discovered the link between dinosaurs and birds while observing birds that walk (and fly) the earth today. They believe that a group of dinosaurs called theropods avoided the mass extinction that killed all the other dinosaurs.
One of the biggest findings in the link between theropods and dinosaurs of the past was the discovery of a fossil of an Archaeopteryx. Researchers discovered that they had wings and feathers that were used for flying, as well as shared skeletal characteristics with theropods.
The largest known dinosaur ever found with feathers was a 23-foot-long tyrannosaur called Yutyrannus huali. "One of the most important things about the Yutyrannus is that we can infer from it that the Tyrannosaurus rex must also have had feathers," Norell said.
Aside from the feathers and the occasional flight, researchers have found other links between birds and dinosaurs. CT scans done on dinosaur skulls indicate connections between the sight, flight and memory functions of birds.
"It used to be that people thought of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals as completely distinct groups of animals with no overlap," says Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies. "Now, when we look across the board at all the animal groups, dinosaurs and birds have more in common than either birds or dinosaurs have in common with any other animal."