Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Noise Reduction?
Jeholopterus pterosaur:
"The specimen is crushed into a slab and counterslab pair, so that parts of the specimen are preserved on one side of a split stone and some on the other. This includes exquisite preservation of carbonized skin fibers and, arguably, "hair" or "protofeathers"."
"I wanted to quickly draw attention to a part of the wing that often gets overlooked…..the hair-like [feather-like?] structures along the trailing edge. Kellner et al. 2009 published a small photograph of this

Combs along the trailing edge of the wing (or turbine when we enter the realm of man-made machines) are known to reduce the noise produced by the animal during flight by collapsing the vortex shed off the wing. There is quite a bit of literature on this subject but its function in biological flight could warrant further attention. Owls are certainly the most famous example where these structures are used to reduce the noise produced by the wings

The examples above show just how similar the trailing edge structures of the wing in Jeholopterus (E) are when compared to those of an owl (A, B) and the obvious differences they have with those of a noisy flier, in this case a pigeon (C, D). While I am in no way trying to compare the functionality of a feather with that of the pterosaur membrane, the presence of trailing edge structures would almost certainly function in a similar way to other noise reduction structures.

Jeholopterus shares a couple of similarities with that of the barn owl: they both use a slow flight while hunting and both were active during times of darkness or at least periods of low light, but there the similarities end. Jeholopterus was almost certainly an insectivore rather than hunting small vertebrates and so it is not immediately apparent how effective a noise reducing structure like this would have been (hearing range of insects anyone?). So could Jeholopterus have used its trailing edge structures to break down the vortex shed off its wing? If so it would have flapped and glided over the darkening Mesozoic landscape using a combination of slow flight speed, high maneouverability and specialised fibres to reduce the noise frequency of the wings, snapping up insects as it went. Certainly some food for thought regardless."

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