Which came first – the feathers or the flight?

Bird feathers may have evolved more recently than previously thought, and the development of powered flight may have been the key that sparked their evolution, researchers have found.

By studying the molecular history of the beta-keratin proteins that make up feathers, claws and scales, researchers at the University of South Carolina were able to chart the genomic history of several modern birds including the zebra finch and the chicken.

They were surprised to discover that the first feathers evolved from scale and claw proteins, and were incapable of flight. Distinct feather beta-keratins only evolved around 125 million years ago – perhaps as a response to the development of powered flight.

Read more at University of South Carolina