Bolting birds help reveal dinosaur gait

1 Mar 2018
Bird diagram
Supplied by Dr Peter Bishop

Research into how modern birds run and walk is taking an international team of palaeontologists and biomechanics experts a step closer to accurately reconstructing the way extinct dinosaurs moved.

The University of Queensland and Queensland Museum-led team has used high-speed video cameras and force-plates to study how a variety of ground-dwelling birds, ranging from quail to ostriches, walk and run.

Former UQ researcher Dr Christofer Clemente said ground reaction forces measurements of two-legged creatures had been used to develop a biomechanical computer simulation model that could be scaled from small birds to large dinosaurs.

“The model is another step towards reconstructing how dinosaurs walked and ran,” Dr Clemente said.

“It throws new light on dinosaur walking and running speeds, and how animals distributed that force.

3D display of dinosaurs explainer image
Supplied by Dr Peter Bishop

“This modelling can have an immediate impact on how dinosaurs are portrayed in movies, documentaries and video games.”

Dr Clemente, now at the University of the Sunshine Coast, said the research team from Australia, Portugal, the USA and the UK measured movements and forces of birds to reconstruct how locomotion changed with increased speed and across body sizes.

The Queensland Museum’s Dr Peter Bishop said the modelling could be applied to the extinct ancestors of birds – theropod dinosaurs such as TyrannosaurusVelociraptor and Australovenator – to explain how they may have moved their limbs, including as they increased speed from a walk to a run.

“Importantly, this is the first time that such empirical predictions have been possible, based on the mechanics of modern animals,” he said.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

The slow-motion video of birds filmed by Dr Bishop and Dr Clemente during the research is available on Vimeo.

Photo captions: bird and dinosaur images supplied by Dr Peter Bishop.

Media: Dr Peter, +61 7 3406 8350; Dr Christofer Clemente,, +61 (0) 403 536 007.