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Artificial tails make chickens walk like dinosaurs

Scientists determined to study how dinosaurs walked attach some silly-looking plunger butts onto modern chickens.

What this chicken needs is a dinosaur tail.
Tracy Clark

Scientists have a problem. They want to study how dinosaurs walked, but there are no dinosaurs left to observe. So they turned to some of their modern cousins, chickens. But chickens don't have quite the same anatomy. So, what's a scientist to do? Make fake dino-tails for chickens to wear, a concept that appeals not just to scientists, but also to people who like to dress up their pets in funny costumes.

A group of scientists from the University of Chile and the University of Illinois at Chicago published a paper on chicken-walking observations in the online PLOS ONE journal. The study, titled "Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion," details how test chickens were outfitted with fake tails and their movements observed to learn more about the way dinosaurs went for a stroll.

"Here we show that, by experimentally manipulating the location of the center of mass in living birds, it is possible to re-create limb posture and kinematics inferred for extinct bipedal dinosaurs," the paper reads. Looking at fossils only goes so far. The scientists conclude that working with modern birds can lead to "a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between form and function in dinosaur evolution."

The scientists observed normal interactions between the chickens with extra tails and control-group chickens with no added body parts. "No ill effects or distress were observed in neither experimental nor control-weight subjects. Indeed, subjects got used to the coats and artificial tails and behaved as normal," the study says.

A slo-mo video of a standard chicken walking compared with a tail-wearing chicken does reveal some subtle differences in the stride. The plunger-looking tail apparatus gives the bird a kind of walk that wouldn't look out of place on a velociraptor in "Jurassic Park."

If there is justice in this world, this scientific experiment will inspire the next great Syfy channel movie masterpiece: "Dinochickenado."