Scientists have tended to disregard the use of wings in studies of ostrich locomotion, believing they were mainly for display and temperature-control purposes.
New, long-term observations of hand-raised ostriches, model calculations and air-stream experiments have shown that these flightless birds can efficiently channel aerodynamic forces and consistently use their wings during rapid breaking, turning and zigzag manoeuvres.
The results of this new study could mean that some of the largest and fastest-moving dinosaurs, such as the 8m long Gigantoraptor, also used feathered forelimbs for increased stability and manoeuvrability when moving at speed.
Palaeontologists have previously suggested that dinosaur forelimbs were used for “catching flying insects, grabbing branches or ripping out flesh from carcasses,” explained lead researcher Dr Nina Schaller, who works with the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt and the University of Antwerp.
The scientists also found that a small intertarsal muscle, previously regarded as “rudimentary,” actually plays a crucial role in ostrich locomotion.