Researchers from Harvard University, The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere said their study was sparked by the realization that skulls of modern birds and juvenile dinosaurs show a surprising degree of similarity.
That's because while many dinosaur species took years to reach sexual maturity, birds sped up the clock -- some species reach maturity in a little as 12 weeks -- allowing them to retain the physical characteristics of baby dinosaurs, a UT Austin release said Wednesday.
"What is interesting about this research is the way it illustrates evolution as a developmental phenomenon," Harvard researcher Arkhat Abzhanov said. "By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird -- an entirely new creature -- and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of land vertebrates on the planet.
"That you can have such dramatic success simply by changing the relative timing of events in a creature's development is remarkable," he said. "We now understand the relationship between birds and dinosaurs that much better, and we can say that, when we look at birds, we are actually looking at juvenile dinosaurs."
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